Tenure is a tricky thing.
On one hand we might ask how the hell can anything get done if everyone is so secure in their job that they have no real reason to to be innovative, progressive and motivated.
On the other hand we might ask how the hell can anything get done if everyone is so scared for their own jobs that they can’t find it with in themselves to risk being innovative, progressive and motivated.
This is quite a conondrum…
To settle this paradox, we must sort out who we trust…
And who we don’t trust…
If we don’t trust teachers then we need to abolish tenure… and lay our faith in policy makers, politicians and administration.
If we don’t trust policy makers, politicians and administration then we need to enable tenure… and lay faith in teachers.
So which is it?
Let’s get one thing clear, the cynic who chooses to trust no one is dibilitating and offers nothing of any value. So we can toss them aside.
In all likely hood the real answer probably requires a balance. It’s probably a bad idea to give any one a blank cheque, but I’ll go a step further and say that if we don’t trust teachers, then why the hell do we send our children to school?
Are there bad teachers out there? You bet there are, but like any profession there is likely no more bad teachers out there than there are bad doctors, carpenters or accountants. Deborah Meier reminds us that, “every time we respond to our distrust by wiping out institutions close to ordinary citizens in favor of more distant authorities, we strengthen cynicism and weaken democracy itself.”
Countries like Finland understand that trust is an essential part of any reform policies. Without trust, we fall into a never-ending pit of control based accountability where top-down policies turn teachers into nothing more than instruments controlled from afar.
One key element to education reform is in teacher preparation. Rather than placing our time and effort into catching the bad teachers, we need to do a better job of making good teachers and then trust them.
John Merrow explains:
We don’t have a teacher shortage problem. We treat them so badly, they leave. We have a teacher leakage problem.
If we continue to teacher-proof education by promoting a “paint by numbers” pedagogy with a premium on compliance, what kind of person will wait in line to become a teacher?
We have to trust teachers because we can’t afford not to.
Tenure is entirely necessary but not wholly sufficient in providing teachers with a working environment where they can show a tolerance for risk and a bias for action.
I hope so.