First, let’s discuss the use of the term “tenure,” which deserves much of the credit, or the blame (depending on your position on the issue), for bringing us to our current circumstances. In lay language, tenure is often misunderstood to mean that if you are tenured, you can’t be fired unless you commit some egregious crime. Given that understanding, labeling something as tenure certainly paints a strong negative picture for the public to, understandably, react in outrage. Consequently, this makes it quite a handy tool in the political arena. This explains why those who would like to make sure that teachers can be fired on the spot and without cause love using the word tenure as a weapon for manipulation—one that has, unfortunately, worked to convince many legislators and voters to believe a statement that is simply not accurate.
What we passed many years ago, and what was recently repealed, was due process. In practice, we gave the hiring authority three years to evaluate their new hire (two years for a transferring teacher). Hopefully they would make a serious effort to help develop and mature the talent, but if not satisfied, they could release the teacher from his or her contract without a hearing or explanation of cause. The administration would be in total control within that time-span. But if a teacher is retained after that period, they were granted the right to a fair hearing process in the event of an employment dispute. So if, from the administration's point of view, problems evolved, there would be a process in place to decide the teacher’s fate. The hearing would be conducted by a person appointed by the teacher, a person appointed by the administration, and a third—selected by the representatives from each side—to chair. Having been that appointed third person, I speak from experience in saying that in no way is this process “tenure.”
I understand there are situations where many sane and reasonable folks get frustrated because, in their eyes, the system protected a teacher that wasn’t of the quality they expected and deserved. In most cases, I believe the explanation is quite simple. Too many school administrators, principals for example, do not want nor have the time to do the hard and responsible work of actually evaluating their teachers. This includes keeping detailed records and documenting efforts to help assist the teacher to improve. When that is not done and a teacher appeal goes to a hearing, without proper evidence, very frequently the teacher wins. For the system to work, good practices must prevail. But, rather than working with educators and administrators to improve the existing process, state lawmakers decided—without any input from the people directly involved—to throw out the system entirely and make it so that teachers can now be fired at any time, for any reason, without a hearing.
Fortunately, since the due process law was repealed, there have been several school districts that have restored this employment right for their teachers by including it in their contracts. However, for teachers in the other districts and for the greater good, there is an election in November for citizens to make their point. Our educators do some of the most important work there is, and it’s time that our state end the assault on the teaching profession and renew its commitment to educating our future.