A lot has been said recently about doing away with the tenure system which is said to unfairly protect sub-par teachers. So what then are the benefits of the tenure system? There must be some reason for its existence. I believe that tenure often protects innovation and the passion for teaching that keeps dedicated teachers in the profession. Lack of tenure can make teachers feel obligated to kowtow to every new “researched-based” idea that is being pushed by a district.
Here’s an example. When I was first hired to teach in the early ‘90s my district asked principals to go around to remove all the phonics based reading instruction material from the classrooms. Phonics was out and whole language was in. I was told by the tenured teachers to give up my materials since I was only a temporary employee and could be easily fired. The tenured teachers were going to hide their materials and teach phonics when no one was looking. Of course, today research tells us that phonics and phonemic awareness are keys to learning to read. Apparently, in the 90’s research told us otherwise.
Quality teachers with experience know what works for their students and want a myriad of materials to get the job done. They also know that trends in teaching come and go. What if tenure was eliminated, forcing teachers to teach in ways that they knew were not appropriate to their students? Of course we can question whether educational research with all its issues with outside variables can ever dictate teaching methods. The main point is that there are lots of ways to get our children to grow intellectually.
Some of the most effective teachers I know have balked at the current trend to follow a reading series with fidelity. (Fidelity means plodding methodically through the reading book so all students in the district are exposed to the same core curriculum.) These teachers favor a more right-brained creative way of teaching, or they teach with holistic units, or possibly with real novels. These teachers all have tenure. They are revered by parents and somewhat looked down upon by administration. The students in their classes are blessed with an approach that differs from approaches offered to them in other years. Many kids blossom with this variety.
There are lots of ways to teach. I admire those who stick with their convictions and teach their passion. Creativity and critical thinking skills are the outcomes of these approaches and nowhere on OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) is there room to show innovative thinking, the kind of thinking that drives an economy. Teachers need to feel secure in their employment in order to be able to teach “outside the box” and to not bend to the pressure of “teaching to the test” shallow curricula. While it’s true that a tenure system creates roadblocks in getting rid of sub-par teachers, it does benefit kids by protecting veteran teachers whose experience can sometimes outweigh prevailing teaching trends.