Why I won’t join the tenure debate

​This “summer vacation” has been challenging. I’ve spent a lot of time this summer preparing for the fast approaching school year. I am no different than most teachers across the country who are busy doing their jobs while we are “on vacation.” But lately the stress of work has been compounded by the bombardment of anti-teacher sentiment I’ve seen on TV, in the newspaper and social media.

Last month, six parents in NYC filed a lawsuit challenging NY state tenure laws. This lawsuit has been spearheaded by Campbell Brown through the Partnership for Educational Justice. Last week on The View, all of the hosts stated that while they are supporters of teachers, every one of the hosts was for the abolishment of teacher tenure. This created a storm of backlash that has not stopped since.

As a teacher, I saw what was being said about teachers and tenure and I felt attacked. I’ve been working hard to make sure that my students will have the best teacher they can, and I do that without tenure. I’m not a tenured teacher but it doesn’t mean I don’t work hard. So I did what I saw many other teachers doing: I took to twitter. Armed with the hashtag #WithoutTenure I began to try and help by adding my voice to the debate. I know, from years of activism, that we are stronger together so I wanted to support in whatever way I could.

Over the last few days I have read numerous articles, blog posts and tweets from both sides of the argument. Many of the articles I’ve read have done a fantastic job at addressing what it really means to deny tenure to teachers. This morning I read a letter in the Daily News from two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit trying to gently explain why they feel they have to do this for the benefit of their children. After reading that piece I immediately wanted to write about how misguided and misinformed the letter is but then I realized something. While we are busy writing about how we feel and trying to inform others, our tenure is being taken away.

In the late 1880s, as labor unions began to gain momentum, teachers took the lead from other industries that were fighting for better working conditions. Just as other workers fought for better protections in the workplace, teachers also demanded better protections against parents and administrators who would try to dictate what could or (more often) should not be taught. Teacher tenure became more widespread in the 1920s during the suffrage movement. Teachers at that time were fired for getting married, getting pregnant or even wearing pants. Those women won tenure through demanding their right to due process in the streets.

I realized that those women did not win our tenure rights by talking and that we won’t defend our tenure rights by talking. Many well meaning teachers are spending their time trying to win public opinion for our side. But we teachers already have the capacity to change public opinion. We spend so many hours every week establishing relationships with the parents of the students we teach. The parents of my students trust me. They come to me for advice about their child’s schoolwork and development. They know that I want what is best for their child. So I know that if I am saying I cannot do as good a job if I am fearful of being fired, that those parents would hear me. I know that I am capable of influencing those people.

Parents are going to make the difference in this debate. Right now Campbell Brown is manipulating parents who feel their child did not receive the best education they could have. But Campbell Brown is a stranger with no knowledge about what it takes to teach. The parents of my students know that they can trust my judgment about what I need to be the most effective teacher. I know that if I said “Join me in the streets!” that they would.


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