Tougher to Get Tenure - What Do the Teachers Think?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Deputy Chancellor John White says tenure should be the highest honor, not the default (Beth Fertig)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC's education reporter, Beth Fertig, spoke about how a change in guidelines resulted in far fewer public school teachers being granted tenure this year. Teachers called in with their thoughts.

The criticism was that it didn't matter how effective they were--New York City teachers could simply show up in their classrooms for three years and get tenure--strong lifetime job security--for that alone.

Mayor Bloomberg put pressure on principals to raise standards and withhold tenure unless teachers met them. Indeed, the city's new guidelines have led to a subsequent drop in the tenure rate from 99 percent to 58 percent in the last five years. Most of the teachers were not rejected for tenure outright—the rejection rate remained about the same—but many more were deferred tenure and will have to reapply.

Emily in Brooklyn, a teacher whose tenure was deferred another year, called in to say that her principal told teachers bluntly that he didn't bother recommending any of them for tenure because the superintendent was not going to approve  them.

It’s not a vote of confidence for my principal and it makes me less likely to stay in a school where I’m not feeling supported by my administration to achieve tenure. I happen to think that you shouldn’t just get tenure after three years just for showing up but I think that the way that the recommendations came down in the middle of the year kind of made it impossible for teachers who wanted to apply for tenure who were kind of scrambling to put together a portfolio, wondering what the test was going to look like this year, a bunch of other things that made it hard to really put your best foot forward to be considered for tenure when we didn’t find out about these things until January or February.

Indeed, principals told Fertig they felt pressure from superintendents and the system at large not to grant tenure this year. With tenure, teachers are granted much stronger job security, though they can still be fired for incompetence.

Kate in Brooklyn, called in to say she was upset that the entire tenure process relies upon the opinion of one person, the principal.

The whole tenure process relies on the subjectivity of the principal and that's just not fair, it should be a process where more people are involved, where your lifetime career isn't just based on perhaps the principal not liking you or internal politics.

Fertig noted that, ideally, Bloomberg’s system should be less subjective than this, because the teacher would be able to submit a portfolio of student progress, plus a performance review in his or her application for tenure.

Nina, a NYC teacher for four years, called in to say she felt the new guidelines were good, because when she taught in the Bronx she was among bad teachers who were granted tenure after three years.

I have to say it is way too easy for teachers in NYC to get tenure. You only have to show up for three years and you’re basically granted it. When I moved on to Westchester I actually got my tenure delayed a year and I had to prove myself and I had to earn it.

What do you think? Let us know here on It's A Free Country.


Beth Fertig


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Comments [23]

Tippie from BK

I agree on not giving bad teachers tenure. However, based on this subjective and political situation there was an incident where the teacher found unsavory means to acquire tenure. These unsavory situations will prevail. Based on the percentage other hard working teachers were denied tenure.

Aug. 03 2011 12:01 AM
HS Biology Teacher from NYC

I was one of the only 58% to get tenure this year. I would never want to see a bad teacher be protected, but it is so sad to me to look around and see many fantastic teachers and hardest workers in the system be denied tenure for political reasons.

In private industry, your only real job is to please your boss. In teaching, your job is to teach students. It has been my experience that pleasing a school supervisor often interferes with teaching. Every year the DOE comes up with a new one-size-fits-all method of teaching that is promoted as a panacea, and teachers are expected to conform to that model of risk being targeted by administrators. Teachers need protection from all the nonsense that prevents them from being able to actually teach.

Jul. 30 2011 01:18 PM
Hugh from CT

John from Brooklyn:

I, too, taught in the DOE, for 7 years. While I agree with you that tenure should not be granted automatically or as a rite of passage after three years, I do have problems with the DOE's new criteria. For instance, there is a large criterion based on value-added scores, which is just disproportionately out of the teachers' control Further, if a teacher genuinely needs improvement or is just plain not cut out for teaching, then, by all means, tenure should be either deferred or denied. However, there is reason to believe that there is a political agenda being employed here, instead of case-by-case decisions. If the superintendents is saying "Don't bother to apply because you won't get it," then it appears that the decision has been made beforehand, without regard to the indivdual candidate. If teachers are being denied tenure because they will become more expensive, rather than because of their pedagagical performance, the system is unethical and corrupt.

Jul. 29 2011 11:08 AM
John from Brooklyn

I taught in DOE schools for 25 years and then moved to a different system, losing my tenure. I will have to teach 4 years, getting invited back every year by a committee made up of teachers and administrators, before I can apply for tenure in my 5th year. This is as it should be. Tenure needs to be the outcome of proven quality on the part of the teacher and carefully considered by the school. Making tenure more difficult in DOE schools will raise the quality of the teaching staff and make our defense of tenure more realistic. The decisions about tenure should be made by a committee of teachers and administrators.

Jul. 29 2011 09:06 AM
Yeah, right from Hell

All the Bloomberg Administration has been about is trying to dismantle the teacher's union, so teachers can be hired and fired in the manner corporations do.
Removing tenure would allow minors to basically decide if a teacher should be fired on the basis of:
1) They gave the student the grades they wanted, whether they deserved them or not.
2) They were strict towards the student.
3) They protected themselves when a student was about to punch them in the face.
4) The student did not like the way they dressed or acted.
5) The student did not like something they said.
6) The teacher made them angry at them for some reason, and felt like getting revenge.
Six teachers would have been fired if they did not have tenure, and when each judge heard the case against them, they were both angry and in utter amazement that these cases had gone to court.
Do you still think that teachers are like corporate workers and do not need tenure?

Jul. 29 2011 02:47 AM
Candice from New York City

I would pay anyone to come and d my job for a whole year! YOU WILL BE CRYING IN A MONTH! It is very difficult to be an effective teacher in a system which you have zero discipline power, zero parent respect of REAL participation, minimum to zero support from your administrators! As a 14 year veteran teacher, it is getting harder and harder to do the job I love. How can anyone take a child that is i the eight grade, reading as a third grader and performing math as a second grader and "TRULLY" pass these standardize test? I have been told to change grades. to "make sure your kids get a passing grade", to do what it takes to make "their portfolios are done" by the due date".
Yes, we need our tenure! Yes, we need a better evaluation system! However, to all of those who are trashing teacher and our fight to keep our tenure, I invite you to become a teacher, not in a comfy "Charter School", Come and teach in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in a PUBLIC, LACK OF FOUNDING, AND DISCIPLINE SCHOOL. THEN LET TALK AGIAN. LETS SEE HOW WILL YOU SURVIVE IN THIS DICTATORSHIP! Joseph Satlin got nothing on Bloomberg !

Jul. 28 2011 12:13 PM
Matt from Long Island

I love it. Private industry workers propose that teachers "deal with it" concerning how people are hired and fired in the "real world." Instead of these cowards standing up for their own rights as workers by organizing to protect their job security and diginitiy, they purport the notions and practices of the upper ehelons of management. Perhaps they one day hope to be the people in charge of ruining lives according to numbers on a sheet. Until that appeals to me, I think I'll support a system that allows a fair inquiry--one supported with evidence--to determine whether someone is retained or not.

My final thoughts deal with what seems to be an intentional ignorance of the media and the public toward the the tenuring of administrative officials in our school system. Their tenure and hiring practices are scarcely mentioned, but as we've seen in Atlanta, the environment and expectations created by management dictate how a school will function, and how well students are prepared for their future endeavors. Teachers do not hire themselves, so if incompetent ones are being placed in the ranks, look no further than the superintendents and the principals, because their recommen-dations place us in front of your beloved children.

Jul. 28 2011 12:13 PM

I can't believe how uninformed the general public is as it pertains to education today. I am guessing all these negative comments are coming from corporate types who get bonuses every year. Stop comparing teaching to the business world. Teaching is an art. Also, unions ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR BAD TEACHERS, principals are. They can get rid of bad teachers but they choose not to. Unions don't hire them, only protect them once they are in.

Jul. 28 2011 12:10 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm glad you cleared up the difference between the kind of tenure univ. professors get & the kind NY public school teachers get. Even in yesterday's hourly newscast on WNYC, the reporter said people who want to change the tenure system didn't believe teachers should have their jobs guaranteed for life--which is not what tenure gives them. Maybe the hoops the present system requires could be modified, though.

And I know some teachers who've worked for principals who were not exactly objective about the people who worked for them & who railroaded teachers into bad assignments or "rubber rooms" out of personal grudges. Teachers need real protections against principals who abuse their power.

Jul. 28 2011 12:01 PM
rachel from nyc

I know you're not asking parents or students, but let me say, as a parent, if my kids had every year back that they wasted with a tenured teacher, we'd be talking about 5 years. Also, there is a Regents Science Exam. In fact, a tenured science teacher was so incredibly inept, that the principal of my daughter's school had to teach the science class at 7:30 a.m. for 2 months prior to the Regents so the students would pass. I have come to the conclusion that 1 year contracts with respectable salaries would be the way to go.

Jul. 28 2011 11:53 AM
Jeff from Hoboken

Unions are concerned with revenue stream and utilizing that revenue to affect government to further increase their revenue stream.

It's time for a "CHANGE"! Put the schools back into the hands of parents and out of unions hands.

Jul. 28 2011 11:48 AM
sheila from washington heights

Welcome to the real world. Bosses get rid of people they don't like all the time. yes, it can be unfair, subjective, political; maybe the employee did not suck up, play the game. But that is the non-teacher world

Jul. 28 2011 11:47 AM
Sam from NYC

My friend works in a school where her Principal not only granted tenure to a very young teacher, but actually bent over backwards to help her acquire the credits she needs in order to qualify for tenure. This is blatant favoritism, which just goes to show that Principals have too much power to decide who gets tenure and who doesn't, who keeps their job and who gets laid off, and these decisions are often made based on how well they LIKE the individual and NOT how qualified they are for the job.

Jul. 28 2011 11:47 AM

I think our public school teachers have a very hard job and I have only the greatest respect for them. I also don't think we yet have a good way to fairly evaluate their work. But I don't understand why tenure even exists in our public schools.

My understanding of tenure is that it's necessary in colleges and universities as a way of guaranteeing academic freedom. But is academic freedom an issue for those who teach third grade? Are public school teachers doing original research? I don't think so.

So I don't understand why elementary school teachers should be different in this respect from any other public employees.

Jul. 28 2011 11:46 AM
Gib from UES Manhattan

The USA has inferior education, so it makes really great sense to make it really difficult for teachers to work. They should have huge classes and be paid very little. And give them cafeteria and bus duty and make them prepare kids for irrelevant tests. Politicians are ridiculously ill-informed, so should have complete control of schools. Duh.

Retired teacher Gib, a great teacher who was tenured for 27 of 30 years !!!

Jul. 28 2011 11:45 AM
Eric from Brooklyn

I got tenure this year. Many of my friends in the system did not get tenure. They are very very hardworking professionals, and the only difference between them and me is that they had scared or unsupportive principals.

I got my tenure despite NOT having had formal observations from my principal in the last two years! My principal played the game correctly and got the superintendent on her side. What was or wasn't in my "portfolio" didn't count-- probably nobody read it!

Jul. 28 2011 11:44 AM
Caitlin from Brooklyn, New York

I am a teacher who was approved for this new wave of tenure requirements. It was one of the hardest career projects I have ever done- honestly, like completing a master's degree. I worked extremely hard to put together a strong tenure portfolio, very, very quickly. My principal did recommend me. Yes, that was the first step, but honestly, I think it was a well deserved recommendation. As difficult as this is to say, I think it is time that all teachers are put up to balanced standards. It puts us all at the same level to exhibit what we have done and the impact we have and can made. It was unfortunate that I had to work so quickly to put together this portfolio. I think it is fair that they allowed teachers to defer, because teachers need fair notice to do this. It really was slapped on us that it had to be done quickly. So, the deferment was mostly there, I think, so that teachers can take the time to put together the portfolio. They needed to give us all more time. The Superintendents review the portfolios and if you look at what is required to be approved, it is a demanding and broad spectrum of impact on student learning that has to be reviewed.

Jul. 28 2011 11:42 AM
Brian from Hoboken

Go find me an industry where 97% of employees are rated excellent, then given a lifetime job, all after only 3 years.
To keep good young teachers we need to front load pay increases in the first 3-5 years as proposed by Joel Klein in his Atlantic article recently.
Tenure creates problems like in Atlanta. The teachers who were caught changing state exam grades may not he able to be fired due to tenure and contract rules. Unbelievable!

Jul. 28 2011 11:40 AM

I don't understand the mayor on the issue of teachers. Maybe he has information I don't. I know many teachers and hear the same story over and over which is that they are NOT supported by adminstration in the face of violence, poverty and drugs. I did an internship in a notoriously troubled public high school in nyc. I was told by a hard-working smart teacher that another teacher in that school was in a class by herself when she was cornered by a male student. She was subjected to him exposing himself to her and threats. He went to juvenile court. He was returned to the same school. That teacher had to be faced by the student every day. Why are nyc public school teachers more supported by administration?

Jul. 28 2011 11:36 AM

But who's to say teachers haven't proven their worth? Why does the Bloomberg approach to education sound like 1) make the schools easier 2) close publicly funded schools in favor of charters and 3) make the lives of teachers even more difficult.

Jul. 28 2011 11:35 AM
TC from LI

Why do we still offer tenure? Its an old system, and it prevents schools from holding teachers accountable for doing a poor job.

Too many people become teachers for summers off and the decent pay and do the least possible work.

Too few teachers teach for the love of teaching - these teachers wouldn't need tenure to keep their job.

Jul. 28 2011 11:35 AM

I am a third year teacher and was granted tenure at the end of the year. The portfolio that was part of the basis for my tenure was a bit tedious and was just kind of dumped on untenured teachers at the beginning of the school year. I was fortunate enough to have students who saved their work from me, so I actually had some student work to show.

I think the other thing that was extremely helpful was the support of competent administrators, who kept me informed about what I needed to do and actually did their job, observing me six times a year and meeting with me regularly.

The teachers I know who didn't get tenure were the ones with unsupportive administrators. They were never (or rarely) observed and were never given information or support about the tenure process. Not receiving tenure for that reason seems a bit unfair.

Jul. 28 2011 11:15 AM
carolita from nyc

I think this is a good thing. Teachers should have to prove their worth on a regular basis. But I also think a good teacher who is experiencing a slump should have a chance to be "re-educated" offline, and taken back if he/she shows an ability to adapt and improve. Not stuck in a "rubber room," for example. Also, more experienced teachers who are tiring of the job might be good as mentors to new teachers, again, offline. There's no reason for a teacher to be a teacher teaching the same thing forever. We all change our jobs, many of us do so every five years or so. That's life today.

Jul. 28 2011 10:15 AM

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