I'm a parent, so I am pleased and happy to see that a judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California's public school teachers Tuesday, saying such laws harm students, especially poor and minority ones, by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.
I'm a teacher, so I am worried.
Suddenly the mild feeling of security I have achieved over the course of my career has been stripped away. Tenure was never a ledge to which I climbed and then sat precariously, waiting for someone or something to come and knock me off, knowing the whole time that I was firmly affixed to the rock by metaphorical crampons and all manner of super adhesives. As a teacher, I know the powers that are wielded outside a teacher's contract. That's the reason we have them.
I also know that there are plenty of teachers out there in our schools who flaunt that convention. As citizens, we are routinely treated to stories each day about how this teacher got away with this or that horrible behavior. We are made aware of the blatant injustice of the way our children are mistreated by bad teachers who use their tenured positions as perches of power, where they teach alliteration and force their students to learn folk dances against their will.
I joke, because it is my way. I also know that it is true that there are plenty of educators at all levels of the system who abuse their authority and their students. They should be fired. That would be a relief for the teachers who show up every day and would never be considered "ineffective." That worry should be left for the truly "ineffective" teachers. Those quotation marks are there because of the lingering worry for the rest of us about what "ineffective" means and who will judge it.
Back to that climbing metaphor, something I might teach to my fourth and fifth grade students, and how I haven't stopped my ascent. Achieving tenure was establishing base camp, and it came as a relief, of sorts, but it is by no means the end of the climb. I suppose we could always go by that base camp and round up the teachers who were just sitting there reading magazines. Get rid of them, right? Or is that the best way to judge "effectiveness?" I am too busy clinging to this rock face to worry about it right now, but I do wonder when they might come for me.