Does tenure reform denigrate the teaching profession? Earlier this week, Eduflack spotlighted teacher tenure proposals offered up in Connecticut. The significance of this is that Connecticut is a true-blue state, Dem legislature, Dem governor, with strong teachers unions. So efforts to eliminate “life-long tenure” demand one stand up and take notice.
A valued reader, though, commented that such an approach must mean that Eduflack is anti-teacher. Nothing could be furthest from the truth (if I were, I don’t think my teacher mother would let me come home for Christmas). But I do believe, as Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy does, that one can be both pro-teacher and pro-reform.
As I’ve written on these electronic pages many a time, there are few professions as demanding, as necessary, and as downright hard as teaching. Far too many of us (Eduflack included) are just not cut out to be classroom teachers. Those who enter the profession do not do so for the pay, the pensions, or other such considerations. They do so to make a difference in the lives of kids, no matter how difficult it may be.
In return, they get low pay. They get berated by parents. They get attacked in the media. They become the punchlines for jokes and the targets of horrible urban legends.
Just last year, as a leader on a local school board, my district was working hard to find a way to provide raises to our educators, who had seen there salaries frozen for several previous years. We did give them the pay increases they deserved (or at least a start to what they deserved), but along the way, I heard some choice words from constituents about how teachers don’t work full time and how they deserve low pay because they have those “huge” pensions coming to them. To folks like that, teachers are simply a commodity, not a partner in the process.
But I digress. If done correctly, efforts such as tenure reform can return a needed level of professionalism and respect to the teaching profession. Yes, tenure is earned. Yes, any teacher worth her salt is doing everything possible to encourage learning in her classroom. So why not have that check-in every five years to ensure that a tenured teacher remains on task? Use the process to applaud the leaders, while helping provide additional resources and supports to those who may be struggling.
Ultimately, tenure reform is a necessary component to current efforts to focus on educator quality. We start with certification, and what is necessary to gain entrance to the classroom. It is followed by educator evaluations and those measures necessary to determine if effective learning is happening in our classrooms. And it is followed by a tenure process that incorporates the key tenets of that evaluation system and ensures those goals are embedded in keeping our best educators in their classrooms for their entire careers.
Certification reform is about getting the highest-quality teachers in the classroom, dispelling the myth any warm body can teach. Educator evaluation is about demonstrating the effectiveness of our teaching force, not about targeting teachers for dismissal. And tenure reform is about demonstrating the effectiveness of all our instructional leaders, not about taking away benefits or collective bargaining rights.
For far too many, education reform is seen as a punitive action, as an effort to assault our classrooms and attack our teachers. And yes, in some instances, that has indeed been the case. But it does not and should not be that way. At its heart, education reform is about strengthening the teaching profession while improving the learning processes for all of our students.
Real reform, real school improvement, cannot happen without educators. Our teachers and principals cannot do it half way, they can’t sit on the sidelines and hope to wait out reforms, and they certainly can’t ignore the proposed changes. They need to be full partners in the process, and agents for improvement in the classroom. We need to trust all educators to implement with fidelity, and we need to provide them the resources and supports to do it right.
To get there, we need to continue to build a public confidence in our educators. We need to demonstrate that the strongest, most effective teachers are teaching “my” kids. To do that, we need to use the continuum of certification, evaluation, and tenure. All teachers — from first years to veterans — should be held to the highest standards. They should be evaluated every year. Those who need additional supports should get it. And those who are exemplary should be rewarded for it.
Most educators I talk to are not afraid of such measurements or such expectations. They just ask that it be applied fairly and with a common sense that can often be lacking in public education. Couldn’t agree more.