Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Here's What Tenure Really Does

There's a lawsuit claiming tenure discriminates against children. They say the worst teachers teach the most needy kids in the most needy areas.

I teach the most needy kids, so I must be a terrible teacher too. For goodness sake, my kids can't even speak English. What could be worse than that? The answer is fairly simple. What's worse than that is that they tend not to do well on standardized tests. The only logical conclusion, as you'd infer from NY newspaper editorials, is that I'm a thorough incompetent. I should be fired and replaced with a TFA expert with six weeks of valuable training. You won't see that person hanging around for 30 years and demanding a pension.

And it is, of course, mere coincidence that there is a high percentage of high needs kids in these areas. Rampant poverty in these areas is just an excuse. A good teacher could surely teach them some grit and make them forget that they wake up at 3 AM to help their mother deliver newspapers. A qualified teacher would make them forget that their parents are in another country. A highly effective teacher would make them pass all the tests even if they just arrived from China six weeks ago.

The only answer, as far as our reformy friends see it, is to eliminate teacher tenure. It's important to be able to fire teachers for any reason, or indeed for no reason. And naturally, that's entirely fair. Principals and assistant principals are very wise and never, ever, exercise personal agendas that have nothing to do with learning. And private enterprise hires at will employees, so why isn't that good enough for teachers?

I'd argue it isn't good enough for private enterprise either, but that it's even more important for public school teachers. The fact is that there are rules on how we deal with children. I know someone, a probationer without tenure, who was fired for the offense of asking that special ed. regulations be enforced. And I myself would have been fired for the offense of talking to a Times reporter if I hadn't had tenure.

I once identified two students who spoke fluent English but were in my ESL classes. Neither ever wrote anything. One consistently refused and was belligerent when I demanded he do anything beyond writing his name on a test. Another was friendly, overcompensated by participating orally, but could not decode words like "home," or "mother" when I wrote them. His first language was French, and my genius ex-principal would not accept the kid was illiterate until he had him try to read in French. While pronunciation varies, the French alphabet is essentially the same as ours.

I called his house, his grandmother told me he had a problem, and asked if I could help. My research, though far from extensive, uncovered no program to help high school kids who didn't read (though my school now has precisely such a program).

When that principal received a fax from the DOE with my name on it, it was as though the world had ended. I was constantly called into the office. I was asked to check in at the end of my day, and I was made to wait while the principal did whatever Very Important Business it was he had to attend to. In fact, my students were denied books I'd requested for a full year until I discovered somewhere we were contractually entitled to supplies. I casually threatened my then-AP with a grievance, and the books were magically ordered the next day.

I know people who were sent to the rubber room for less. I was perhaps fortunate because my report kept us all busy with scores of meetings, all of which I was forced to attend. At not one of these meetings was the welfare of the kids discussed. It was did we follow the rules, have we covered our asses, and can we get into trouble for this. The consensus was they did, they had, and they could not get into trouble.

As this went on, both kids stopped attending school, and helpfully solved administration's problem.

But I have no doubt whatsoever, had it been an option, that this principal would have fired me outright for telling the truth about these kids.

Has tenure saved your job?
blog comments powered by Disqus