Editorial: Whether or not teacher tenure should exist

Teachers can never be fired.

Not exactly, but this is how many understand the term “teacher tenure.” Tenure was originally designed for the protection of teachers. 

Teacher tenure is a policy that goes beyond a usual “just cause rationale” for firing. Each institution of academia follows a distinct set of guidelines to utilize tenure. The individual departments can even be different at the same school. Many states have focused on tenure reform, including Kansas.

Tenure has been a controversial political issue for some time. However, lately reforming or eliminating teacher tenure has even become a pressing issue often covered by the media. Many politicians are actively voicing their opinions to media outlets.

Governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly spoke about teacher tenure this past November.

“I voted against eliminating due process for teachers and I would welcome a bill that repeals what we enacted in 2014. I fully expect that there will be efforts to do that during the legislative session,” said Kelly.

 

“Last One Hired is the First One Fired” (LIFO) is a policy often used by school districts and other employers to prioritize layoffs by seniority. Teacher tenure would be a very practical application of this policy in the education system. School districts may dismiss tenured teachers only by a showing of just cause. For example, institutions following such procedural requirements may provide notice to the teacher, specifying the charges against the teacher, and providing the teacher with a chance to make a claim for their innocence.

Supporters of tenure argue that tenure is necessary in making the education system successful. Tenure provides protection for teachers to utilize unpopular methods of education. For example, teachers are able to fail poorly performing students regardless of how influential they are to the school. Supporters also often assert tenure protects teachers’ freedom of speech. Freedom of speech can be quite relevant to the professional teachers who may publish works that aren’t found favorable by their academic instituion.

Adversly, many argue against granting teachers tenure. They argue that LIFO can develop an apathetic teaching staff. The education system is already flooded with teachers who are no longer effective, but tenure adds more to the list. Some argue that tenure grants teachers permanent positions regardless of whether or not they deserve a job. Many say because our education system is flooded with these ineffective teachers, and students are suffering.

From the very beginning, tenure was controversial. I fall somewhere in between both sides of the controversy. I understand why seasoned teachers feel they have earned a sense of trust from the school system. They shouldn’t necessarily face the same scrutiny for discussing controversial topics that may not be as widely accepted by new teaching staff. Alternatively, I have seen professors who have earned their tenure become complacent and lack the passion that newer teachers possess. Tenured teachers aren’t working to keep their job, they often appear to be working for the paycheck instead. Either way you lean, there is always going to be an equally valid argument on the other side of things.