Saturday, June 14, 2014
Teacher, Teacher, Burning Bright ... 2
The other day I posted about the ludicrous idea that teachers choose their profession for mercenary reasons. I mentioned that a few folks I've known did teach principally for salary--but it's hard to condemn people, isn't it, for wanting to have a job with benefits?
I wrote, as well, about the "short" salaries I earned throughout my career, though, as I said, by the time it was all over, I was earning enough to live a solid, middle-class life, to pay my bills, buy food, travel a little, own a house. My parents' dream--for themselves, for their three sons. A dream that's becoming ever more difficult to realize in today's more harsh world--especially for the middle class. (Take a look, for example, at Robert Reich's recent documentary, Inequality for All, available on Netflix streaming.)
I did enjoy decent benefits while teaching--though not at first. When I began in the fall of 1966, the school offered no medical insurance, no dental--nothing but the state's retirement plan--STRS (State Teachers Retirement System)--a plan that has served me well since I retired from public education in January 1997. Again, STRS has not enriched me, but it has enabled Joyce and me to continue our middle-class lives.
The other benefit that public education offered me? Tenure. What they called in my day (still?) a "continuing contract." This was not, as some think, a lifetime guarantee of a job. I could lose my position for a variety of reasons: insubordination, incompetence, mortal turpitude, the elimination of my discipline in the curriculum (not likely--I was an English teacher). I saw tenure as a significant step in my profession--something I had earned, one of the things that told me that I had indeed chosen my life's work. It was an official confirmation that I ... belonged.
Teacher tenure has been in the news lately because of the recent decision of a California court declaring that state's tenure law unconstitutional (link to New York Times story about the decision; link to text of the judge's ruling). From what I read, I can see that California's criteria for earning tenure are somewhat less rigorous than Ohio's--just a year and a half to qualify in the Golden State. I believe it was five in Ohio at the time I earned it--and it was not automatic. The Board of Education could have simply "non-renewed" my final temporary contract, and that would have been it. (This happened to some of my colleagues.)
I want to direct you to a wonderful blog post from our son, Steve (yes, yes, it's nepotism!), on this issue. He's the Education Policy Fellow for Innovation Ohio (a Columbus political "think tank"), and he wrote an informed and emotional piece the other day (link to Steve's blog) about tenure about about what he called "Great Teachers."
Steve raised some issues I want to talk about, too--but from the point of view of a former public school teacher. And I want to ask some simple (though troubling) questions: Why would a young person want to become a public school teacher today? What are we doing to attract bright, creative, and compassionate people into the profession? And what are we doing to dissuade them?
And I will get into that (and more about tenure) in subsequent posts.