Why We Need Teacher Tenure: Because Protecting Children Shouldn’t Be a Firing Offense

A while ago, I wrote about how elementary school teachers in Holyoke, MA were being told to use public disclosure of test scores to ‘encourage’ better performance. Because humiliating children is a great way to make kids hate learning. Or something. Since this is 21st century America, the school superintendent tried to pin this policy on the teachers–who then publicly presented documentation that rebutted this false allegation, and pinned the blame squarely on the superintendent. As the kids like to say, you’ll never guess what happened next (boldface mine):

Now, Morales thinks his standing up to the administration has cost him his job. And a preliminary finding from the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations backs him up. In September, the board found that there was probable cause to believe that the non-renewal letter he received in June from the district was because of his protected union activity.

Morales tells Salon that for the first two and a half years he taught in Holyoke, the western Massachusetts town where he grew up, his evaluations were stellar. But after the school committee meeting last February, his evaluations “just got so unbelievably negative.” He was elected president of the Holyoke Teachers Association, a local chapter of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, in May as a reform candidate, part of the Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU) caucus that also elected Barbara Madeloni president of the state union. A month later, he was fired.

All of a sudden I start speaking out and I can’t do anything right,” he says. “I can’t write good lesson plans, I can’t control my classroom, I’m doing everything possible wrong. All of a sudden. The writing for me was on the wall.”

…In Massachusetts, a teacher achieves “professional teacher status,” equivalent to tenure, after three years in one school district. Morales, who has been teaching for seven years, was just on the cusp of having this protection in Holyoke. It’s worth noting that tenure or its equivalent is not what Brown and other campaigners like to call it, a guaranteed job for life — the school district can still fire you, they’re just required to give you due process first.

Morales finds the attack on him frustrating because, he says, by speaking out he hoped to make things better. “Even in some of my speeches, you can go back and listen to them, I said ‘This is not about any one person or any one policy, it’s about a system that’s broken,’” he says. “I’m doing my job as a teacher, but because of my extracurricular activities speaking against some of the reforms, all of a sudden, my livelihood gets tied to my extracurricular activities and that’s just so inappropriate. Because here you have kids that are in front of me, and if I witness bad things, am I not supposed to report those things?

For all the people who rail against teachers unions and tenure, these kids could be yours.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

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