Why Teachers Need Tenure
by Stewart E Brekke (retired physics/chemistry teacher Chicago Public Schools) Copyright SBrekke 2001
Teachers need to have tenure. The modern view of some educators and politicians is that tenure for teachers has no value. My experience as a physics and chemistry teacher in the public schools of Chicago has convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that all teachers should have the possibility of tenure.
Tenure is really like seniority in other working environments. Tenure protects the teacher from unwarranted and wanton dismissal for doing unpopular things such as failing influential students, becoming a whistleblower, union activity, writing unpopular articles, and lack of favor for almost any reason with changing school administrators and school board politics. Most teaching situations have almost immediate dismissal for cause such as child abuse, theft, and conviction of major crimes as well as teaching incompetence. Therefore, the public should have little concern about teachers having tenure.
I believe that most parents would agree that, when dealing with the public in a way that teachers must such as failing students, enforcing school discipline and choosing one student over another, a teacher needs some kind of job protection.
Most teachers are "little" people in the sense that they often do not have much influence with school boards and administrators. Because of sometimes unpopular decisions, the teacher needs tenure to protect his job and to save him from the financial ruin of unemployment. Also, all persons in a job situation need to have some kind of job security. A person needs to have the long term financial security that tenure provides for his/her family to have shelter, food and his/her children's education.
If there were no tenure for teachers, each new principal and department head would be apt to hire his own new faculty for all kinds of reasons, from nepotism and politics to return of favors. The school district would have a kind of "spoils system" every time there was a change in administration or upon the whim of the administrators, unrelated to job performance. Further, school administrators would constantly be pressured by relatives, board members, and disgruntled parents (to name only a few), who seek to get teaching jobs for their children, friends and relatives. For example, in my last year at one school there were at least six different attempts to get me replaced by fellow employees and parents. In every case my potential job replacement was either uncertified or unqualified in some other way.
Were I not a tenured teacher, I believe I would not have recently retired with a pension for 24 years of teaching service. In one instance my fellow science department members went en masse to the principal trying to get me fired for having written a published letter in The Science Teacher about the violence and outright danger to some of the students in our school and in one chemistry class. In another case I gave an honors chemistry student a D because he did not make up his missing laboratory work. The parents of this students attempted to get me fired 4 times because of this event. Also, I generated a discussion on the origin of life, mentioning evolution as one possibility to stimulate the honors students' perspectives at the end of class one day. The brother of one of the students in the class, a minister, tried to get me fired a number of times as well for simply talking about the origin of life. Were I not tenured, I could possibly have been released in order to lessen parental pressure on the principal.
Finally, there was a recent attempt to take away the tenure of Chicago teachers by the legislature, ostensibly to improve the performance of our Chicago students on standardized tests. I happened to be in a summer program for teachers at Argonne National Laboratory and told a visiting teacher from Minnesota about this potential threat to our tenure. He replied, "Who would take a teaching job without tenure?"
About Stewart E Brekke...
Stewart E Brekke at 59 year old has just retired from his position as a physics and chemistry teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He taught for just over 23 years with the Chicago district and just over 1 year with approximately 20 surrounding suburban districts, full time and substituting. Mr. Brekke's publishing record includes articles on teaching science in The Physics Teacher and the ISTA Spectrum as well as letters to the editor in Physics Today and The Science Teacher. He has presented two papers to the Illinois State Academy of Science, Physics section.
Stewart holds three degrees: An MS in Ed from Purdue, an MA in Humanities from Wayne State University, and a BA from the University of Illinois. His interests are Physics and Chemistry teaching as well as the Minoan-Mycenean religion, having had two articles on Minoan religion published in scholarly journals. His interest in Physics and Chemistry teaching centers around teaching to minority students the standard mathematical Physics and Chemistry course taught most often to the best students, and not often presented to students perceived as "at risk." He asserts that, "Most students, average and above, can do the standard mathematical course, if they have appropriate support, and are taught with drills and practices not usually given in high school Physics and Chemistry texts."