Teacher tenure involves the awarding of a permanent post or position at an educational facility. It is often given to professors at a college or university, but can be awarded to any teacher, including those in the K-12 educational realm.
Most agree that the good teachers tend to be underpaid and the bad teachers should find a new profession. The goal of tenure is to reward good teaching with job security, but some bad apples can find their way into the mix as well.
List of Pros for Teacher Tenure
1. It eliminates the need for an employment contract.
Most people don’t realize that teachers are employed via contracts. They are typically renewed on an annual basis, often at the discretion of the institution where they are working. A school board can decide to not renew contracts without a reason once they have expired. Offering teacher tenure allows for job security because the need for the employment contract disappears. Instead of annual renewals, there is a permanent offer in place.
2. Tenure isn’t a guarantee for every teacher.
Most institutions, including school districts, require several years of probation to be completed before teacher tenure will even be considered. During this probationary period, the teacher will be evaluated in all aspects of their job. If they meet the competencies that are outlined by the institution or school board, then they can qualify for tenure, but still not have it rewarded automatically. If they do not qualify for tenure, then their teaching contract can expire without a renewal offer.
3. It is not a lifetime job opportunity.
Tenure for teachers is not a guaranteed job for life. Even when tenure awarded, a teacher can have their contract terminated for “just cause.” How just cause is defined depends on the institution, the laws which govern the institution, and even national employment laws. In general terms, however, just cause includes insubordination, incompetence, and personal misconduct.
4. Tenure allows teachers to continue pursuing research.
When a teacher is on probation or having their employment contract evaluated annually, their research and paper publication tends to be artificially restricted. They look into areas that will not put their employment at-risk with their school board or administrative group. With tenure in place, they can pursue their own interests and publish papers that can allow them to grow academically.
5. It protects teachers against financial decisions.
Labor is one of the largest costs of any business, including educational institutions. New teachers cost less than experienced teachers. Tenure allows for experienced teachers to be protected against the idea that a new teacher could provide the same services for a lower labor expense. That reduces, or even eliminates, the negative impact that teaching experience can sometimes have in the educational marketplace for employment.
6. It allows teachers to advocate for their students.
There are times when students may be unjustly consequence for actions that occur while at the school. This is often seen when group consequences are handed out to students without determining who may be at fault and who was not participating. Teachers with tenure can advocate for these students because they can disagree with their employer, administrator, or school board without having their job threatened.
7. Tenure allows teachers to teach subjects that may be considered controversial.
Imagine a teacher that wants to emphasize the theory of evolution within a school district that emphasizes creationism. Or the reverse: a teacher that wants to emphasize the theory of creationism within a district that emphasizes evolutionism or Darwinism. Tenure allows teachers to teach subjects that may be deemed to be controversial to a school board, but necessary for the growth of students.
8. It eliminates subjective termination.
There are antidiscrimination laws which must be followed by every employer. In at-will states, however, the U.S. allows employers to fire anyone for any reason that is not covered by an antidiscrimination lawsuit at any time, even with a valid employment contract. Without tenure, teachers can still be fired if they become pregnant. They can be fired for political reasons. Good teachers should be allowed to teach instead of needing to fight for their job security. Tenure eliminates most forms of subjective termination which could be utilized.
List of Cons for Teacher Tenure
1. Tenure can make it difficult to remove teachers with disciplinary issues.
The goal of teacher tenure is to provide a system of due process for disciplinary issues. In reality, tenure tends to make it difficult for institutions to remove a teacher unless there are extraordinary circumstances present. In some cases, a teacher with tenure might only be terminated for cause, for program discontinuation, or for financial mismanagement.
2. It may stop teachers from being motivated.
When teachers are evaluated annually with their contracts on the line, then they are motivated to perform at the highest of standards. If they do not, then their contract may not be renewed. With teacher tenure, the contract is no longer up for renewal. That means the same motivation to teach at high standards is gone. Once a job is known to be secure, the bar can be set lower, and that affects the quality of education that students receive.
3. Bad policies can lead to easy tenure awards.
In some districts and educational institutions, tenure can be awarded in as little as 2 years. It can be difficult to fully evaluate a teacher in that short period, since most schools operate on a semester or trimester basis. Even elementary teachers are only active for 180 teaching days with their students in the United States. With limited student contact, early tenure awards can protect just as many bad teachers as they protect good teachers.
4. It puts the taxpayer at the greatest risk.
Teachers are often working in a public service role. That means their salaries are funded by taxpayer funds, especially when working in a K-12 role. Many teachers already have their positions protected through collective bargaining rights, which outline the reasons why an employment contract cannot be renewed. Many of the protections of tenure are already in place for teachers, which means teacher tenure becomes more about seniority than it does quality.
5. Tenure eliminates the idea of creating something better.
Creative leadership within our educational institutions could create something even better than tenure if given the change. We should encourage a strong demand for our best teachers so that our students benefit from their wisdom and knowledge. Tenure may be a step in the right direction, but it may not convey all of the potential benefits that are possible.
These teacher tenure pros and cons show us that there are always exceptions to any rule. Good teachers slip through the cracks and bad teachers earn tenure when they probably shouldn’t be considered for it. We can all agree that we want good teachers leading us into the future. When applied correctly, tenure can help to make this happen.