Teachers provide the essential cultural function of increasing the knowledge of students, strengthening their thinking skills, and enhancing their ability to develop great ideas and to reach excellence at the crafts the children choose to pursue. Because a society can only flourish if the children and citizens acquire knowledge and possess powerful thinking skills, it is crucial for democratic societies to place a significant emphasis on implementing political structures that can maximize the effectiveness of the teachers in our society. Significant arguments and debates have persisted over the decades regarding the political and democratic legitimacy of providing tenure for public school teachers. Although there are some flaws involved with providing tenure for public school teachers, establishing tenure for teachers based on a standard of high-quality performance and excellent results can provide many advantages that would facilitate great teaching and maximize the education of the nation’s children.
The concept of tenure for public school teachers was initially developed during the labor movements of the late 19th century. Tenure provides certain public school teachers with general lifetime contracts that protect them from ever being terminated from their institutions unless the teachers commit extremely egregious and blatantly unacceptable transgressions. In 1910, New Jersey became the first state to officially implement tenure legislation for college professors, and the concept soon spread and increased into many other states during the suffrage movement to protect female teachers from being terminated for getting married, becoming pregnant or wearing pants. Throughout the 20th century, tenure programs became commonly used by most US states. However, each state has the right to determine whether or not to grant tenure, the conditions or criteria for determining who is qualified to receive tenure, and the specific benefits and guarantees that are included in the tenure agreements. As a result, the details regarding teacher tenure legislation varies widely among the different states, with some providing laws that allow for teachers' unions and that are conducive and supportive of tenure programs and others that prohibit or limit the programs (Stephey, 2008).
There are many problems that opponents of tenure legislation emphasize to argue that providing tenure for teachers is detrimental for our educational system. One of the most significant and valid arguments against tenure is that the standards and criteria that many states and institutions use to determine which teachers are qualified to receive tenure are often based on length of service instead of performance, with some teachers only requiring about 5 years of service to be granted tenure. Basing the standards on length of time enables many bad teachers to receive tenure and prevents institutions from being able to terminate bad teachers or replace them with better teachers. Being unable to remove teachers who demonstrate subpar performances and who yield inferior results harms the educational system of our society, for bad teachers impair the ability of the children to learn important information, develop strong critical thinking skills or develop a passion for learning. The institutions are also harmed when tenure preserves the positions of bad teachers, for the institutions display poor results and are deprived of the democratic right to terminate inferior employees. Additionally, to fire teachers who have already been granted tenure often requires the institutions to fulfill laborious and lengthy bureaucratic proceedings that can cost a significant amount of time, energy and money (Knowles, 2010).
However, tenure laws were originally developed to provide beneficial functions that are still needed today. An important function of tenure programs is that the programs protect good teachers who demonstrate excellence and who provide productive results from being terminated due to political reasons. Teachers who perform at an excellent level often must address topics that are controversial or that challenge the conventional ideas being commonly perpetuated throughout certain sectors of society. As a result, delivering information pertaining to controversial material might offend children, parents or administrators who disagree with the information or who think the material is inappropriate. Topics that some administrations might react sensitively to include history, religion, culture, literature and science. For instance, certain teachers must address controversial pieces of literature that are replete with artistic value or discuss scientific facts that relate to the big bang theory of evolution. Without legal protection, many administrators would terminate or punish teachers who teach such valuable yet controversial materials, and thus tenure is needed to prevent such terminations (Jinkins, 2013).
Our democratic society features a separation of church and state that applies to all public schools, and to maximize the quality of the education that our children receive our legislation should provide teachers with complete academic freedom to teach important material, provide valuable information, and explain beneficial facts without any inhibitions or anxieties that teaching the material can result in the punishment of termination. Additionally, firing great teachers harms children by depriving the students of the valuable opportunity to acquire important knowledge and to obtain a general enthusiasm towards the benefits of learning. Thus, tenure for public school teachers is required to preserve the academic freedom of our educational system and to protect great teachers from being terminated for addressing controversial topics (Jinkins, 2013).
Another benefit of tenure programs for teachers is that the programs protect teachers from being terminated for arbitrary personal reasons. For instance, the tenure agreements prevent institutions from being able to terminate teachers for reasons that do not relate to their teaching abilities, such as personal disagreements, lifestyle choices, sexual orientation or pregnancy issues. Our democratic society has an obligation to ensure that public school teachers can enjoy their freedom of choice regarding their lifestyles, and thus tenures are important because they protect teachers from being punished with termination for personal reasons that don’t reflect their teaching abilities (Jinkins, 2013).
The goal of our society and every society should be to maximize the education of the children so they can become knowledgeable, create great ideas and achieve excellence in their crafts. Good teachers demand academic excellence and campaign for programs targeting low-performing students, such as with a high-school dropout prevention program. Bad teachers harm our nation’s children by depriving them of an opportunity to effectively learn valuable information and to become inspired regarding the importance of knowledge. As a result, bad teachers who demonstrate poor performance levels and who provide insufficient results should not be protected from termination by any tenure laws, regardless of how long they have served as teachers.
However, exceptional teachers who can effectively teach children valuable information and successfully inspire students towards the importance of learning are essential to the progress of our society, and thus tenure is required to ensure that these great teachers who yield excellent results are protected from being terminated for political or arbitrary reasons. Therefore, instead of length of service, the standards that states use to determine which teachers are qualified for tenure should be based only on the performance level of the teachers, the quality of their teaching methods, and the results of the students (Garrett, 2013). Providing tenure for teachers based on the standard of exceptional performance levels would help maximize the education system by preserving the academic freedom in schools, by protecting the positions of great teachers, and by encouraging all new teachers to also achieve excellence so they too can qualify for tenure.
Garrett, R. (2013, July 24). What Is Teacher Tenure? Education.com Retrieved from http://www.education.com/magazine/article/what-is-teacher-tenure/
Jinkins, M. (2013, September 19). Why Tenure Matters. Huffington Post- Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-jinkins/why-tenure-matters_b_3949490.html
Knowles, T. (2010). The Trouble With Teacher Tenure. The Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2010. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703303904575292753427609686.html
Stephey, M. (2008, November 7). A Brief History of Tenure. TIME. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859505,00.html