The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Chapter 4: Teacher Tenure

Teacher tenure laws are coming under close scrutiny, usually not in a pleasant way.  One headline read: “When teachers should be expelled from class.”  “New hope for getting rid of bad apples”.  The assumption seems to be that tenure permits teachers to remain in classrooms when they are “burned out” and not helpful to children.

There must be a reason why we put teachers in classrooms with a group of children and then put these classrooms together in order to make a school.  The reason should be that everyone in the school is important and that are concerned about each other.  Schools are in the business of education  and that should include the education of everyone involved in the enterprise.  If this is not the purpose, then maybe we should consider breaking up the schools into something more efficient.  If the purpose is merely to give out information so that the children can give it back correctly in tests, then maybe a more efficient operation would be to put each child in front of a computer.  If this is so, then we do not need schools at all.  Each child could have a computer at home.

Most people do not believe this.  Schools are made up of a community of people.  Every school community must decide what it is all about and what it wants to accomplish for its members.  It needs to be a group decision because each member is important for the success of the others and each member has to take some responsibility for the failures.

Any group of teachers has individual strengths and weaknesses.  In a safe environment, it would be okay for teachers to say what they do well and what they do not do well.  In many cases, members of the schools community already have this information.  They know which teachers are strong in certain areas and which teachers are not.

Teachers need to be encouraged to describe their strengths and weaknesses.  This information should not be used against them, but should be used to exploit their strengths and to remediate their weaknesses.

Suppose a particular school discovers that it is weak in science and math and wants to improve.  The school community knows that several teachers do not like or understand these subjects.  These teachers usually compensate by rigidly following the textbooks and limiting class discussions.  There are options available to the school to help these teachers.

Just to mention a few:  Teacher could team with one taking over the science and math while the other concentrates on the liberal arts.  Teachers could visit classrooms where the teachers do a great job in teaching math and science.  These teachers could then become mentors to those who feel insecure in these subject.  Staff development opportunities could be made available for teachers to visit other schools with outstanding programs and report back to their colleagues about what they learned.  Time and money could be allocated for some teachers to take additional courses in a highly recommended science and math program.  In other words, they would be helped to succeed in this educational enterprise called a school.

This may sound too “pie in the sky” to be practical but it is more practical than having a complex, expensive program of recertification which probably will result in changing teachers or education.  There has to be a more fundamental change in the system which would have a domino effect to bring about other changes.

The change necessary would have all the occupants of the school responsible for everything that happens there.  This also included the students in each individual classroom.  Children are not in classrooms to interact individually, one-on-one with the teacher.  They are part of a group brought together to help each other to learn and to grow.  The same thing should be true of every adult connected with the community called school.

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