Tenure: Is it necessary?

      Recently 631 teachers responded to the PFT survey, “Our Voice – Our Message.” Teachers were incredibly thoughtful with their responses. Thank you! The PFT Rep Council received a copy of the survey results January 12th, allowing time for analysis (“think-time”) prior to our work February 16th where we will be working with retired Executive Director of the Denver Teachers Association, Bruce Dickinson around Framing Our Message (beliefs and values around teacher effectiveness).

    A fair number of teachers spoke to the issue of tenure, as related to ineffective teachers and teacher unions. Now is a good time to talk about tenure. When people refer to tenure for public-school teachers, what they are really talking about is a set of rules and regulations outlining due process for teachers accused of misconduct or poor performance. I believe teachers are supportive of due process rights for all individuals, including teachers, but believe the process is so laden with rules and timelines that school districts shy away from engaging in the process. Hence, the belief, “Unions are protecting bad teachers because of their tenure rules.” Most unions would respond to that statement with, “Unions don’t grant tenure, administrators do” and they would be right. In Poway, the PFT can’t really say that because we have a system in which PFT/PUSD jointly make recommendations about whether or not to retain our new teachers in PPAP (Poway Professional Assistance Program). Not all new teachers to Poway are placed in PPAP but most are. The district does grant tenure, not the PFT, but we clearly are a part of the initial process. It is the administrator’s job after that to continue to evaluate.

    Once a teacher attains tenure it should not be viewed as a job for life. Nobody wants ineffective teachers in the classroom, least of all teachers or your union. This is “our” profession and ineffective teachers reflect poorly on all of us. I do not believe, as the media implies, there’s an epidemic of poor performing teachers out there. Most teachers are talented and very professional. Instead, I believe (and most of our teachers in the survey agree) we need to improve our current teacher evaluation system to include multiple accountability measures; provide more support when teachers fail to meet those measures; ensure administration is well trained in evaluation and working with others; and to be able to move those that don’t improve out of the profession in a timely manner – all the while retaining due process (tenure). For those teachers that do not know about our existing Peer Assistance and Review Program for permanent teachers, I have attached a recent research paper on what “we” do here in Poway. We have a model program I am proud of, but a program that could still be improved upon. Identifying our beliefs and values around teacher effectiveness is exactly the right and next best step for us.

    I believe the media hype (their message), “To cure the problems of failing schools we only need to fire bad teachers,” is wrong and undermines our work and profession. Teachers face curriculum demands, poor working conditions, high stakes testing to the detriment of teaching and learning, under performing students, disadvantaged students, multiple languages, high class sizes, no professional development or training, limited resources, lack of parent support, students’ drug and alcohol abuse…and more. As public employees, teachers are especially vulnerable to student and/or parent accusations. As teachers we need assurance that we have the freedom to teach and to not be afraid of political winds. Due process, via tenure, gives us this assurance. All of these are real issues that affect public schools and a teacher’s ability to teach. Our work is not easy and it’s not simple. There is no silver bullet to save failing schools.

    I’m planning to open a PFT Facebook page around this work as one more way to communicate and allow for open dialogue. I’ll continue with “all teacher” emails, posts on the Poway Federation of Teachers’ website, Rep Council meeting minutes, and any other ideas you would like to offer. The idea of getting out Our Message feels good to me; it’s about time. Thank you again for your true dedication and professionalism.