Teacher Tenure—Debunking the Myths

Teacher tenure has been around for over a century, and is currently one of many talking points in the War on Education coming from the political right.

What is tenure? It’s simply the contractual right for a teacher to not have their job terminated without just cause. Nothing more. It’s not a way for teachers who have become lazy or ineffective to keep their jobs no matter what. It doesn’t give educators free license to do what they please. It just ensures that educators can not be terminated without reason.

Tenure policies were originally instituted to combat high staff turnover. In the early 1900s, without the benefit of tenure laws, teachers could be dismissed at will for any of a laundry list of frivolous reasons. School board member has a relative who needs a job? Fire a teacher. Somebody has a disagreement with a principal? Fire a teacher.

This sort of behavior was leading to very high teacher turnover, which in turn affects the learning environment. Some form of protection for teachers was needed to ensure that the teachers were able to do their best work confidently, without having to constantly worry about their job status.

A secure worker is a happy worker, and we can all agree that happy workers tend to produce better results.

At the university level, tenure is designed to protect professors and researchers who might be dissenting from prevailing opinions or delving into unsavory topics. In that case, tenure protects their academic freedom and allows them to further their field.

Point is, tenure is not something to be vilified. Could it be reformed? Absolutely. But getting rid of entirely would be detrimental to the field of education.

Tenure Myth—”You can’t fire a teacher with tenure”

You can absolutely fire a teacher with tenure, so long as the administration is doing their job. Administrators can remove a tenured teacher so long as they show just cause. For the administration, this means plenty of observation, evaluation and documentation. Many administrators might not want to go down such a demanding road, but the fact remains that the option is there. Tenure does not guarantee a teacher’s job, so long as the administration is willing to do theirs.

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