Tenure Divides Students, Teachers, and Administrators

By Clara Kobashigawa, News Editor

//The vast majority of students share a common frustration of not being able to get rid of a poor teacher and students often do not understand why it is nearly impossible to get rid of a teacher once he or she has been tenured.

Senior Samantha Repstad has had inferior teachers, and believes that once a teacher plateaus, they should be let go.

“I think [tenure] is frustrating because I know that there are some teachers that have lost that love for teaching that they once had and aren’t enthusiastic as they once were,” Repstad said. They should maybe be let go or go to a program that helps them get better at teaching.”

With the strict laws regarding teacher tenures, it is extremely difficult to “flunk” an inadequate teacher. Although it is possible to let go of a tenured teacher in California, the process requires a lot of time, money, and effort.

The frustration of tenure was brought to the nation’s attention in 2014 with the Vergara v. California case. On April 14, 2016, a three-judge court of appeals overturned the Superior Court decision in the case Vergara v. California. The 2014 ruling in favor of the student plaintiffs made changes to the California Education Code section 44929.21 regarding teacher tenures.

The code states that “any probationary employee who has been employed by the district for two or more consecutive years on the date of that election in a position or positions requiring certification qualifications shall be classified as a permanent employee of the district.”

The nine students, all attendees of California public schools, were originally victorious in their lawsuit against the state of California as they argued that the tenure laws in place negatively impacted their right to an education by causing unqualified teachers to become employed and maintain their employment in the school system.

The students also argued that it allowed weak and deficient teachers to maintain their jobs, while more adequate teachers were let go, and that it was nearly impossible to let go of a weak teacher.

On August 28, 2014, the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles ruled that the tenure codes were unconstitutional.

However, the overturn of this 2014 verdict means that the tenure policies are still in place for California public schools.

Acalanes currently has permanent status, or tenure. There is a two year trial period for the teachers and then if the teacher is asked back for a third year, they are given tenure. The teachers only have until March 15 of their second year before administrators have to declare if they are given tenure or not.

For the most part, there is a consensus among students, teachers, and administrators that the tenure law should be revised. Administrators such as Acalanes Principal Allison Silvestri and Acalanes Unified High School District (AUHSD) Associate Superintendent Amy McNamara believe that the amount of time given to evaluate a teacher is too short. They would prefer to extend the trial period to around five years because it would benefit the teachers and the administrators.

“I think that it should be at least a five year process because it provides people with more opportunity to showcase their skill set, to grow as a professional, and to adapt to the school climate,” Silvestri said.

McNamara agrees with Silvestri that a five year trial period would benefit both teachers and students. McNamara believes, from her experience as a teacher, that once you hit your fifth year “you hit a sweet spot.” Also, according to McNamara, with an extended period of time, the administrators would be able to watch the teacher grow and develop.

“There’s people I have regretted tenuring and it takes a while to be good at teaching. I have cut people who genuinely had the capacity to be a good teacher, and maybe they needed another year or two but I didn’t feel safe doing it,” McNamara said.

However, according to Lori Tewksbury, and Acalanes biology teacher and the former president of the Acalanes Education Association, five years is too long of a trial period for a teacher awaiting tenure.

“I think that’s horrible. If you don’t like them after a good solid 2 years then you should let them go,” Tewksbury said.

Tewksbury also believes that the laws regarding tenures protect teachers from biased administrators.

“If teachers didn’t have permanent status, they would be at the will of administrators who may or may not have the best interest for the students at heart,” Tewksbury said.

In addition to protecting teachers, the opportunity to be tenured can draw people into the profession. With a shortage of teachers, having protection makes the job more appealing.

McNamara said, “Securities to being a teacher attract people into the profession, which is a good thing because you’re never going to be a millionaire working as a teacher so you have to make the profession attractive.”

Tenure Feature Cartoon1

(Blueprint Cartoon/ Siena Kuan)

Sophomore Dominic Schottland believes that by tenuring teachers who deserve it, it acts as a reward or incentive.

“I think that the pros of being tenured are that the teachers are rewarded for staying at one particular school, making them want to stay and help their students and school succeed,” Schottland said.

Many believe that tenuring teachers ensures a lack of pressure to succeed, which can be portrayed as a negative thing. According to McNamara, a bit of pressure can motivate teachers to improve their teaching strategies.

“A little bit of anxiety can really up [teacher] performances and I think we are missing that in education right now,” McNamara said. “For me as a professional, that little bit of fear [of being let go] has been really good for me. It makes me want to try really hard.”

The concept of providing educators with permanent status first originated in the mid-1800s, a time where there were almost no laws that protected teachers from being fired for frivolous reasons such as gender, political views, or race. Therefore, the National Education Association issued a law to protect teachers from biased administrators.

McNamara said that by having the tenure law, teachers “could have this freedom of thought, freedom of expression, things a democracy is based on. I think tenure came into being for those noble reasons.”

However, Silvestri believes that though the original concept of tenure has good intentions, the current law has deviated from its original ideas. According to Silvestri, teachers can change overtime, sometimes for the worse. She believes that administrators should have the power to let go of people if they are not  performing at the high standards.

Though the tenure law has undeniable benefits for teachers, there are also many downsides of providing teachers with almost permanent jobs. Though Schottland believes that there are good things about the law, he also believes that once teachers become tenured, some tend to sit back and relax.

“Where I think the system has gone wrong is that it has moved far away from its original intention because it’s not about protecting teacher rights to freedom of expression.

“It has become about permanent status and the maintenance of permanent status,” Silvestri said.

Acalanes English teacher Sheryl Disher believes that firing teachers who are inadequate is too challenging and time consuming. Letting go of a teacher can cost thousands of dollars and take many years if the teacher fights back.

“I believe it is too hard to fire unqualified teachers,” Disher said. “I think there should be really clear standards that a teacher is measured by and  students input should be a part of.”

Students such as sophomore Mary Kleinsmith believe that students should have an input in the decision of giving a teacher tenure.

“I think the school should consult the students each year and the students should have a say if the teacher stays or goes. There should be a re-evaluation every few years, so teachers continue to improve and grow in their teaching.”

Students currently do not have a say because according to Silvestri, it is not stated in the law, teacher contract, or board policy that students must have an input on the decision.

Though there will currently be no revision to the tenure code, there is a general consensus among Acalanes students and staff that a change would benefit both parties.

“I think that an [adjustment to the law] gives everybody the opportunity to come together in a really good conversation [about tenure] and continue the process of growth,” Silvestri said.


Adapted from Issue 8, Volume 77. Originally printed May 27, 2016

Leave a Reply