What is tenure? Many of you have heard of it and more than a few of you have discussed how evil it is because it makes it impossible to fire the evil, greedy and indolent teachers. Somewhere along the line, politicos, pundits, and others have twisted what tenure does. First let me explain something to you, tenure has not always existed. “What?” you proclaim. The first “tenure” law was passed in New Jersey in 1910* for college professors and then was extended to high school and elementary teachers a few decades later. It was actually more universal in the USA in the 1940’s and 50’s. It was originally described as an act for fair dismissal. It was designed to protect teachers who could largely get fired because the PTA president had become upset with a grade that little Suzie received. Somewhere along the line, tenure ceased to protect the innocent and began to protect the indolent if you believe the reports.
Why was tenure needed to begin with? When I took school law, it was apparent that teachers in entering the classroom gave up something – certain constitutional rights. Don’t believe me? A teacher may place a bible on the corner of his desk and even discuss some of the stories as cultural literature. A teacher may not at any time use the classroom to discuss his religious and personal beliefs. A teacher may wear a political button of support. A teacher may not at any time use his classroom or position to discuss why he wears the button. In fact, the button is frowned upon and teachers are expected to discuss political or religious ideals off campus. These are just two examples of a host of things that teachers cannot discuss. Teachers have given up their first amendment rights. They do so willingly because they know that kids are a captive audience and often quite impressionable and we must be very, very, very careful, even if the information they bring from home and discuss with other kids is a bucket load of you know what.
I find it somewhat interesting that every time there is a national crisis, whether it be promiscuity or drugs, you can turn to most any daytime talk show or late night broadcast, and invariably some expert will say “it’s something that we need to be sure is taught in school” and everyone applauds or nods their collective heads knowingly. Schools which have limited resources are suddenly asked to teach moral ideals without the benefits of any kind of belief system and at the same time fairly balance those moral ideals with belief systems that they may conflict with. Anyone here see the problem here? If so, you may applaud or nod your collective heads.
Is it any wonder that in this insanity, teachers need some protection? I know we have all heard the stories of the bad teacher that was saved by tenure. When did those stories become the majority? At what point, did tenure become the evil protector of what men do? Tenure guarantees due process. That’s all it does. A principal must document the failure of the teacher in the classroom. He, the superintendent, board members or other powers may not fire a teacher without cause. What is more, they have in many states, a few years to fire a teacher without cause. It’s called the probationary teaching years and any teacher who changes jobs will tell you that tenure does not transfer. After the a certain number of consecutive contracts are approved a teacher is said to have tenure or has become non-probationary, which means that in order to remove that teacher from his or her position, a principal or superintendent or board needs to do its job and prove just cause. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to operate. It has nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with unions, except that a union attorney may represent the teacher. When I took school law, eons ago, there were in Colorado eight reasons to fire a teacher. Only eight? Yes, but number eight was simply ‘a teacher may be dismissed for any reasonable and justifiable cause.’
Due process is what any person has a right to. Because teachers are public figures and because what they sometimes do might rub a few folks the wrong way, they were given in law what is in many cases is a constitutional guarantee. They were given the right to a fair hearing of why they are being dismissed. Can it cost money? Yes. Does it protect a few? Yes, especially when the administration of a school fails to do its job. Tenure was not evil. It has been twisted to make it so. A number of years ago, Colorado eliminated tenure…well at least the word. Teachers became “probationary” and “non-probationary” not tenured. The thinking by the politicians who led the charge to get rid of evil tenure was that by eliminating the word, they would effectively eliminate all judicial/court rulings on tenure. Thank you George Orwell for your gift of double speak. After the passage of the law, two lawyers were in the superintendent’s office discussing with him the implications of the new law. One was from the union and the other was the school’s attorney.
Superintendent: What does this law mean?
School Lawyer: (The school lawyer looks at the union lawyer and they grin) That we are both about to make a lot of money.
So this is it: Tenure is to protect teachers by giving them DUE PROCESS. It is not inherently evil.
( history from http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859505,00.html)