Check Your Wallet! You Too Can Be An Expert on Teacher Tenure!


It is IMPOSSIBLE to fire a bad teacher.

Unless of course you document how that teacher is bad.

You know? Due process. Rights. All that liberal bullshit.

Thank goodness we have tech millionaires to stand up for the rights of totalitarians everywhere!

A slew of Microsoft wannabes is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.

They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.

You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!

No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!

I wonder why no one wants to hear my pet theories on how we should organize computer systems and pay programmers. Somehow the change in my pocket doesn’t qualify me to make policy at IBM, Apple or Microsoft. Strange!

But that doesn’t stop millionaires and billionaires with nothing better to do than try to increase their already skyrocketing profits.

It’s disgusting. They’re nothing but wealth addicts looking for a new score by stealing whatever crumbs have fallen to the floor that the rest of us need just to survive.

Time Magazine, which decided to put this non-story on the cover for Nov. 3, should be ashamed. But something tells me the editors could care less about things like facts, truth, integrity…

These are the same folks, after all, who propelled Michelle Rhee to fame on their infamous cover with the then-DC-schools chief holding a broom to sweep out all the bad teachers. Oh! That worked out so well! Cheating scandals, anyone!?

But instead of any apology or retraction for their faulty journalism, one can imagine the following conversation at Time’s last editorial meeting:

Editor 1: I’ve got a great idea for the cover! How about a bunch of know-nothing idle rich talking out of their asses!?

Editor 2: Brilliant!

I know I’m just a teacher and I don’t have millions in the bank, a bulging wallet or even a platinum credit card – but let me try to draw on my poor more-than-a-decade of experience in the classroom to explain.

1) Tenure does not mean a job for life. It just means you have to follow due process before firing a teacher. Many other jobs have similar due process rights for their workers that they don’t call tenure. Unfortunately that leads to the belief that teacher tenure is special or unique. It isn’t.

2) Teachers are Evaluated Based on Student Test Scores. This is ridiculously inaccurate and unfair. Standardized tests do NOT effectively measure student learning. They measure family income. So teachers who have richer students have generally more favorable evaluations than those who teach the poorest and most difficult children. Value-Added Measures, as these are often called, have been labeled junk science by national statistical organizations. They violate a basic principle of the field that you cannot use a test designed to evaluate one factor as a way to evaluate an entirely different factor. Removing due process would make the teachers who serve the most at-risk students, themselves, unfairly at risk of losing their jobs.

3) Firing the “least effective” teachers doesn’t improve education.
I know this goes against common sense, but facts are facts. If you fire someone, you have to find a replacement. Ideally, you want a replacement who will do a better job than the person being removed. However, this is incredibly difficult and expensive. Half of teachers who enter the field leave in 5 years. It’s a tough job that many people just can’t handle. Moreover, it takes a long time to get good at it. A much more cost-effective approach is providing high-quality professional development. You can’t fire yourself to the top. Yes, if a teacher has no interest and doesn’t improve after multiple attempts to help, then it may be best for that person to seek employment elsewhere. But it’s not step 1!

4) Tenure Protects the Most Experienced Teachers. Without it, veteran teachers could not compete with new hires who enter the field at a lower salary. In the long run, it costs less to keep and train veteran teachers than hire new ones. But administrators and school directors often only see short-term gain. Without due process, veterans would be in danger of unfair firing to increase the short-term bottom line. This would reduce the quality of education kids receive because they’d be denied a wealth of experience and talent. Moreover, who would enter a field that only values new hires? There’s no future in such a job and it would just be a repository for a series of temps with no other choice than to teach for a few years before moving on. Teach for America, anyone?

5) Tenure Allows Teachers to Innovate. With due process, teachers can more easily make decisions based on what’s best for their students and not what’s politically acceptable. They don’t have to give the school board director’s son an A just because of his patronage. Kids actually have to earn their grades. And if a student doesn’t like a teacher, he can’t destroy the adult’s career by making a baseless accusation.

But to know any of this, one would have to possess some actual information about the field. That takes experience, not big money.

For some reason, the same people who are investing heavily in privatization just can’t see it. The people who champion for-profit charter schools, toxic testing and Common Core can’t wrap their heads around the concept. All they see are dollar signs of public money meant to pay for the public good being diverted into their private bank accounts.

Human suffering? Educational outcomes? Struggling students?

Who gives a shit?

Teachers do. That’s why they’re trying so hard to get rid of us.

This article was also published on Diane Ravich’s blog and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

As a member of the Badass Teachers Association, I subsequently helped craft a response that was published in Time Magazine.

32 thoughts on “Check Your Wallet! You Too Can Be An Expert on Teacher Tenure!

  1. 7 years ago almost to the day, a behavioral, ODD student of mine decided to get me fired. I was sent home while the police, the Children’s Aid Society and the principal all investigated. Police and CAS completely cleared me; the child was a serial alleger, and this had happened to 3 of his previous teachers. The principal didn’t let those recommendations sway her ultimate decision–to excoriate me, fine me a week’s pay, and recommend to my state licensing body that my teaching license be removed. I was away from work for a year on unpaid administrative leave. It took 3 years and countless hearings and retellings of my story, with my district going against me every time, before my year’s pay was repaid, the case against me was withdrawn, and eventually that principal, who had been found to be practicing constructive dismissal against me, was released by our district. I am a poster child for why tenure matters. Well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr. Jay,

    I’m sorry for what you had to endure.

    I’m another experience educator leaving the minute I am eligible for retirement. I truly loved teaching at one time. Now it is training kids to pass tests, and I don’t want to do it anymore. I’m being held accountable for a slew of things I have no contol over.

    When Microsoft builds it’s computers and gets a batch of parts that are missing components or not running up to standards, they return and replace those parts with ones that work right. We can’t do that in education. We work with what we get. Would Microsoft be as successful if they used the parts they received then just labeled each computer they sold with the problem like “will run slow” or “not all keys work on the keyboard”?


  3. I just came to this post from your comment on the Washington Post article about the Time cover. I am a recently retired college professor with a love of teaching, and the points you’ve made here — especially the ones about how long it takes to get really good at teaching and the importance of teachers being free to innovate — really resonated for me. Thank you for providing a breath of logical fresh air in a national debate often characterized by ideology and sloppy reasoning.


  4. […] Yes, I am a union employee and proud of it. I collectively bargain for a fair wage. I band together with my colleagues for a middle class income so I can afford to be a teacher. I demand professionalism and autonomy so I can do the job. I seek fair treatment so I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder in case a school board member would rather give my job to one of his cousins. And if you’re going to fire me, I ask for due process – proof of wrongdoing. […]


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