June 24, 2014

California Love

In the wake of the Vergara decision regarding teacher tenure, there has been an explosion of commentary both positive and negative. Some are ready to pour dirt on the entirety of teacher tenure.  Others see the decision as a slap in the face of teachers across the country and as another “nail in the coffin” for due process.  Of course, I see it through a third lens.

Back in 2005, which seems like a long time in terms of education policy/politics, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed on the November ballot an initiative called Proposition 74.  In short, that Proposition advanced the notion that, god forbid, teacher’s be given five years to receive tenure instead of the extremely short window of only two years.  At the time, in my own District, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), as well as the California Teachers Association all worked vehemently to defeat this proposition.  They felt it was a slap in face of, you guessed it, due process.  While at the same time people want to engage in historical amnesia concerning this Proposition, they are also failing to advance their own best interest.

If Prop. 74 had passed, both the public and the politicians would have seen the measure as a step in the right direction of teachers understanding the need for more rigor in the tenure process.  Oftentimes, both the perception and the reality is a war of attrition.  Sit in one spot for 2 years (with perhaps 2-3 walk-through's from administrators) and poof, you’re fully tenured.  I understand that there should be more to it, but oftentimes it is not. Let’s be clear, 95% or more of the teaching population is doing the right thing, but that 5% is anchoring us down.
I believe in acknowledging the hard work of teachers who show up for work every day, ready and able to fight the good fight and advocate for their students.  As I used to say when I was a high school classroom teacher, “its not the kids who (mess) up my day, it’s the adults.”  With that in mind let me direct my focus to the adults who insist on acting like the children they teach. Rather than engaging in the reflective discourse of what can be done to improve the profession, people have engaged in the dangerous slope of arguing in absolutes.  Either you agree with tenure or you don’t.  Of course, the “truth” lies somewhere in between both extremes.

Highlighting the FACT that there are an extremely small number of teachers who do not do right by their students is not an indictment on ALL teachers who are in the classroom.  Let me say it another way, if you do the right thing, participating in education groups on social media, grading papers, showing up to work early/leaving late, lobbying for better educational reforms, and in many cases raising your own children, no friend, I am not talking about you.  I am talking about those who languish in the darkness, or sometimes right in front of us, and insist on doing the bare minimum or worse. What is abhorrent is that we as the "good" ones do not shed light on those who need help, or assistance (see: No Snitching from 3-5-12)

It seems as if everyone has a story about a teacher - positively and negatively.  Let me highlight why I believe that teacher tenure needs significant reform.  Without going into great detail (to protect the guilty), a “colleague” of mine in South Central, earned his Ph.D online while he was supposed to be “teaching” his class.  Why does this matter?  Well for obvious reasons of doing ones job, but personally his students would come to my classroom crying begging to be in my already overcrowded class.  How could I say no? Real talk.  Is he an aberration? Absolutely.  But he's not alone. Let’s have an honest, truthful discussion. There may not be anyone as bold, or in my mind abusive, as he was, but there are folk who try to “get over” in every profession.  To deny otherwise is simply weakening our argument that this profession should be view as a top-tier profession.

So rather than continue to rant and point fingers, here are 4 things we can and should do to reclaim the tenure discourse:
  1. Increase the number of years from 2 years to 4 or 5 years.
  2. In addition to the administrators “observations,” there should be bi-annual meetings with a consortium of parents, teachers, students (if 6-12th grade) and other stakeholders.  Teaching is not just what you do in the classroom, it is how you affect and interact with the school community as well.
  3. There has to be some evidence of academic growth, either through Professional Development credits or attendance at academic conferences.
  4. As a part of tenure, the portfolio of the evaluation should include; a written component by the teacher, 2-3 letters of recommendation (including the department chair), a written evaluation by an administrator, and some sort of statistical evidence of student growth (not just test scores).
These are just a few of the ways teachers can “take back” the narrative surrounding teacher tenure.  K-12 tenure is not as rigorous a process as the tenure process at the higher education level, nor should it be.  But these four ideas help towards alleviating the misconception that once teachers receive tenure that they become like my former colleague, inept and lazy. 

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