Why Teacher Tenure Matters

Teacher Helping StudentsThe latest blow to the profession of teaching in North Carolina is a move to eliminate career status – otherwise known as tenure.

Tenure for North Carolina public school teachers does not mean a guaranteed job, like it usually does for university professors. It just means that a teacher has the right to a hearing if school administrators want to fire her. A teacher can get tenure after a four-year probationary period.

Even with tenure, a teacher can be fired for a list of offenses, including inadequate performance or negligence of duty, or because the district needs to cut back on teacher positions. The teacher would have the right to a hearing and could appeal the superintendent’s decision to the school board and then to Superior Court. School leaders say when it comes to removing lousy teachers, they rarely have to resort to dismissal; instead, those teachers are “counseled out” of the profession and resign.

Tenure provides teachers with some protection from being fired for petty or ideological differences. From a recent Raleigh News & Observer article on the issue:

 “Without tenure, it means there will be parts of this state where teachers might be afraid to mention the word ‘evolution’ because they might be fired,” she [Diane Ravitch, a national figure in education policy analysis] said in a speech sponsored by N.C. Policy Watch, a liberal public policy organization. “They’ll be afraid to teach ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ They’ll be afraid to teach global warming. They’ll be afraid to teach anything controversial because their job hangs in the balance, and the balance is don’t make the parents angry.”

A bill in the General Assembly that’s likely to pass would eliminate tenure for all public school teachers. Instead, teachers would receive contracts of one to four years.

For teachers in North Carolina, the elimination of tenure feels like “piling on.” North Carolina is 46th in the nation in teacher pay. Years of state budget cuts to education mean fewer resources, and many teachers pay for supplies out of their own pockets. Current proposals would eliminate class-size limits and teacher assistant positions.

The question facing North Carolina’s brightest high school and college students: why would anyone go into teaching when, day by day, it’s becoming a less desirable career choice?




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