Teacher Tenure: Only Good in Theory


Brett Debbold

Tenure, much like communism, is a good idea in theory, but its modern application does more harm than good for teachers. The goal of tenure is to protect proven teachers from dismissal when new administrations or young teachers come into their schools. The fear is that without tenure, older teachers will be unjustly pushed out in order to save the school money or because of conflicting teaching theory.

The problem is that although the principles are sound, the practices of those who have attained tenure are often unsavory. It is a system that by its nature is easily taken advantage of, while the advantages of gaining tenure are only slight. These advantages are only reaped when an experienced teacher either has a disagreement with the new administration, or when a teacher would be let go because of cutbacks and is saved because he or she has tenure.

For the most part, the teachers who would deserve to keep their jobs would do so easily even without tenure. Just like in any other profession, there is no reason for an administration to fire good employees.

Tenure does, however, give license to those who have earned it to become complacent in their work. Of course not every tenured teacher lets his or her work decline, but it is an easy course to take. Knowing that you can’t be fired for anything less than a serious offense is a dangerous thing. The fear of getting fired and the desire to get promoted are the most common incentives for good work, and with tenure, many teachers are left without either.

Worse than that, tenure forces schools to fire superior teachers for the sole reason that they haven’t been around as long as their peers. When merit is no longer the basis for which firings are decided, something is wrong with the system. When schools inevitably undergo cutbacks and inferior teachers remain employed while young teachers excited to go to work are let go, tenure is to blame.

Tenure is also horribly outdated. Many of the reasons it was created are no longer relevant. Much of the academic freedom that it supposedly grants to experienced teachers has been taken away with the recent emphasis on standardized testing. Tenure isn’t to blame for squashing teachers’ ability to be original in their lesson plans, but it isn’t saving them from “no child left behind.” Plus, the idea of drawing new teachers to the profession is foolish when you consider how many teachers there are without work.

Career longevity should be earned through hard work and dedication to your job. According to procon.org, in California, it only takes two years to be given tenure, which means that before the administration has had enough time to properly determine the strength of a teacher’s ability, they need to decide whether to give that person relative job security for life. Even if a teacher was fantastic for two years, it is ridiculous to sign them up for 30 more based on such a small sample.

Teaching is a far cry from the Supreme Court, where job security is necessary to ensure job performance. Nothing about teaching as a profession makes tenure reasonable. While I’m sure everyone wishes his or her job were set for life, in practice, tenure simply provides more negative than positive.