Tenure is embedded in schools. Would they be better without it?


Tenure has become another obstacle that prevents creativity and independence. We spend our first few years on probation, proving our worth (mainly by staying out of trouble), so we can secure a professional contract or tenure. Ironically, assessments during these years often focus on our behavior and not on the quality of instruction. Unlike college and university professors who must prove their academic credentials to earn tenure, teachers need only do a satisfactory job—or appear to.

When we visit our doctors, we are confident they have kept up up-to-date in their practices, as they have to take periodic recertification exams. If we knew they could earn tenure and be able to practice for life without rigorous recertification, we would choose not to continue as their patients. Yet, we allow the teaching profession to equate tenure with job security, requiring nothing more than collecting professional development credits by attending workshops and courses. We rarely conduct—or allow—serious assessments of our teaching.

I remember attending a brain-research workshop, led by a nationally respected presenter, in which two-thirds of the participants left after lunch to shop rather than complete the workshop; since they had already signed in, they received credit hours for the day. Needless to say, I was embarrassed, not only for the presenter but also for the profession. The presenter shared that such behavior is not unusual.

Once we receive tenure, we are virtually guaranteed a lifetime contract. Those who teach the same subject in the same school, for example, can perform at very different levels and yet expect to have contracts renewed annually, as in the case of one science teacher who taught twenty-eight times as much as another teacher down the hall in the same school.

Do you believe in tenure? Does it help you teach better? Leave a comment.

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 12 “Abandon the Crabs in the Cage” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.