Stop Calling it Tenure

kenkerrpic250wIn the K-12 arena, teacher tenure is not—and was never intended to be—a guarantee of a job for life. Tenure does nothing more than guarantee due process for an employee who faces workplace sanctions or termination. Additionally, tenure is the belief that qualified, effective teachers should not be removed from the classroom because of a difference of opinion.

So, Frederick County Public Schools—and the Frederick County Teachers Association—should stop calling it tenure because it is really just the end of probation.

Actually, most jobs have a probationary period typically of six months to a year. During this time, the employer and the employee see if there is a good fit. Employers who find it necessary to terminate an employee during this time have more discretion and fewer restrictions. Once this six-months-to-one-year probationary period is over, the employee can anticipate more stable employment and does not have to fear termination without due process.

For FCPS teachers, that probationary period is quite a bit longer—three years. During these three years of probation, it is much easier for FCPS to terminate an underperforming or ineffective teacher. Certainly, all efforts are made to mentor new teachers and get them the support and assistance they need to be successful, but sometimes things just just don’t work out.

Even people with the proper credentials and the best of intentions are just not right for the classroom—and they have to be let go. Often, if budgetary constraints lead to necessary layoffs, it is the non-tenured probationary teachers who are let go. That’s just one of the hazards of not having completed probation and earned tenure.

The term, tenure, is a red herring and a rallying cry for those who oppose unions and oppose public education. There is nothing in the negotiated agreement that forbids firing a bad “tenured” teacher. There is nothing that the FCTA does to protect the job of a tenured teacher who does not belong in the classroom.

However, if it becomes necessary for a tenured teacher to be terminated, the tenure status guarantees due process to ensure the termination is not arbitrary, capricious, or retaliatory. Tenured teachers can and do get fired.

The term tenure is misunderstood and intentionally misused. It has outlived its usefulness. So let’s just stop using it and start calling it what it really is: “getting off probation.”