Monday, June 16, 2014

Tenure is a Management Issue

Picture a school system with hundreds of teachers. Some of the teachers have been with the system long enough to be eligible for a special benefit: job security (tenure), upon completing 24-60 months of high quality work. It’s a critical threshold to achieve, because teachers who cannot demonstrate in all those months that they are quality workers are immediately fired.

One year a new school administrator comes on board, and one of his first tasks is to hire a teacher to fill a vacancy.

The school administrator is overwhelmed-- he has to make the hiring decision, and he knows it is among the most important decisions he will make. He rifles through the resumes at his desk. There are many resumes. He conducts interviews, and calls references, and makes his decision—he hires Sandy. But he is terror stricken that he has made a mistake. What if Sandy is a bad hire, and somehow is able to slip through the system and ends up with job security? Rather than own up to the uncertainty of the hiring process, he makes a suggestion to the state department of education:  let’s eliminate everyone’s job security, just in case I have made a mistake by hiring Sandy.

The department of education assures him that there are safe guards in place; everyone doesn't have to be punished because his hire may be a poor one. For months and months and months you can fire Sandy immediately if Sandy seems to be a bad hire.

The school administrator is in charge of orienting, training, supervising, and evaluating Sandy. Months and months go by. The school administrator is busy with many tasks. Sandy approaches the time of being eligible for job security, and the school administrator doesn't know for sure if Sandy is worthy of a long-term place in the school. In the dozens of months Sandy has been working, the school administrator has accumulated a fragmented set of evidence about Sandy’s performance, even though they have been working in the same building the entire time. The school administrator is terror-stricken again. He has no reason to deny Sandy the job security.  But what if that would be a mistake?

The school administrator becomes angry at Sandy. “If Sandy were really a good employee, after all these months I’d not have any trouble knowing the quality of Sandy’s performance.” The school administrator also becomes angry at his bosses: “If they’d only give me the resources to really supervise and evaluate Sandy, I’d be confident in making my decision.”

The school administrator again makes a suggestion to the state department of education: let’s eliminate everyone’s job security, because we can’t be sure if Sandy really deserves it.

The department of education again assures him that there are safe guards in place; everyone doesn't have to be punished if the school administrator made a mistake giving job security to Sandy. He can still dismiss Sandy.  Collecting evidence about Sandy’s performance will remain the job of the school administrator. Sandy is granted job security.

The school administrator wants to be prepared to fire Sandy should he finally have a chance to do so, even though he was the one who recommended Sandy to have job security. He reads the language in the contract and he is stunned. The evidence he must collect now is what he needed to do all along. He is terror stricken again that the organization is stuck with Sandy.

He was supposed to have made a good decision hiring Sandy in the first place, and he was supposed to have made a good decision in recommending Sandy for job security after all their months working together. The school administrator can still evaluate Sandy, but he doesn't see how he can know anything for sure. Rather than acknowledging his difficulty working with the inadequate resources at his disposal, the school administrator again makes one last suggestion to the state’s department of education: let’s eliminate everyone’s job security, because I still can’t effectively evaluate Sandy.

The state’s department of education considers three options: 1) get rid of the school administrator for being unable to do his job; 2) provide the school administrator with the resources he needs to do his job; 3) punish all the teachers by eliminating job security for everyone so they won’t have to provide resources for the school administrator.

The chair of the state’s department of education says, “Let’s eliminate job security and we’ll blame it on the teachers. “

The issue of tenure is one of under-resourced administrators in our schools. Why can’t they be supported to do this critical job better? Administrators hire teachers into the system; during the many months before teachers are eligible for tenure, they can be fired almost instantly with minimal evidence; teachers can be released when they are not recommended for tenure, and any time after tenure has been granted, when a teacher shows reliable evidence of incompetence. Every collective bargaining agreement between teachers and administration has a mechanism for releasing a tenured teacher. Let’s not eliminate tenure and blame it on the teachers. Let’s tell our departments of education to support their administrators in developing the tools, the time, the skills, and the relationships that make their evaluations robust, and their hard-working teachers secure.


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