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Students' Rights AND Teachers' Rights

In response to questions posted at the National Journal.com Education Insiders blog about the recent court decision on teacher tenure in California, I offered the following thoughts:

I disagree with posing student and teacher rights as binary opposites. Every student, in every public school in America, deserves a quality teacher. Every teacher deserves to be treated like a true professional—which includes having due process before losing one’s position or teaching credentials. Doing the latter actually helps ensure the former.

We are closer to both those goals than we may realize. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, now 25 years old, has painstakingly developed psychometrically and legally sound standards for highly accomplished teaching. These are recognized by the profession and by every state. National Board also has developed (and is currently updating) an effective process for measuring those standards in the real work of classroom teachers.

I live in a state that has never had teacher tenure. I just finished serving for 10 years on our state licensure board, before which teachers must appear before having their teaching licenses suspended or revoked. In all that time, I never saw a school district/administration bring a teacher before us to be de-certified for incompetence in the classroom—even though that is a relatively simple thing to do in our state. Tenure has become a convenient excuse and political gimmick, but it has never been the real reason less qualified teachers remain in schools or systems—that’s an administrative failing.

On the other hand, schools with high teacher turnover are inherently unstable which is extremely damaging to students. Not surprisingly, the schools with the highest turnover are those with the worst working conditions for teachers (that means they also have the worst learning conditions for students). Consequently, the students with the greatest educational needs and challenges often end up with the newest and/or weakest teachers, and the classroom problems spiral downwards.

One way to guarantee both students’ right to a quality teacher and teacher’s right to professional dignity would be not to eliminate tenure, but to connect it as other professions do to the achievement of Board certification.  Becoming National Board Certified should be the goal of every novice teacher, a goal towards which they are aimed starting in their teacher preparation programs. Novice teachers should be teamed with Board Certified mentors until they are ready to earn Certification themselves and become teachers of record (fully responsible for a classroom). This would be the foundation of a system that makes sense for students and teachers.

7 Comments

Kris Giere commented on June 16, 2014 at 12:40pm:

Thank you

Renee,

Thank you for your work on NCBT.  Thank you for your professionalism and your passion for improving the state of education in America.

- Kris

Rod Powell commented on June 16, 2014 at 1:01pm:

NBCTs targeted?

Renee, 

Professional Dignity - an idea long missing from a teacher's portfolio here in North Carolina.  We have taken a beating recently.

Becoming Board Certified did indeed change my teaching - making me a far more reflective professional.

  But I wonder if it sometimes makes me a target for admin in NC.  I know that's a loaded word - let me explain.

As a veteran NBCT, I like to think that I understand the big picture more so than a fair amount of my colleagues. I have recently become more outspoken about what I see as the shortcomings of what we do in my school. Sometimes my viewpoints are welcomed - but in others (particularly with our school based testing program), they are not and I've been tagged as "not a team player".

I sometimes wonder that this label, plus my salary as a veteran NBCT, would endanger my employability without the protection of career status.  It woud be easy enough to simply not renew my contract and offer it to a newer, less outspoken teacher.

What are your thought on this situation?

Renee Moore Renee Moore commented on June 16, 2014 at 3:31pm:

Teacher Leaders Targeted

Been there, Rod, and I understand exactly what you're talking about. 

Teacher leaders in general, and NBCTs in particular, are often targeted for our outspoken stances as we advocate for our students within schools and districts. Local politics is a powerful player in every school setting. The more insecure and uninformed the local school administrators, and policymakers are, the more pushback you're likely to get. Clearly, under all the high-sounding political thunder around getting rid of teacher tenure in order to make it easier to get rid of the "bad" teachers, lies a very direct threat for teachers to only do what we're told and be quiet---of course, the best teachers among us often refuse to do either.  The defensse against this has traditionally been for teachers to join or form unions and stand collectively against such practices, which is why those places that have (had) tenure adopted it in the first place.

The more I fight this good fight, however, the more convinced I become that we also need a good offense, and that is to raise the overall level of respect and influence for teaching as a profession.

Cheryl Suliteanu commented on June 16, 2014 at 9:50pm:

close to home

Renee, I couldn't agree with you more that we need to raise the respect for teaching as a profession.  As a California NBCT, and as one who knows the ins-and-outs of the California EdCode and my local union contract, the Vergara situation is disheartening and infuriating.

The problem as I see it here, is that somewhere along the line, teachers have been villified for advocating for our profession. The overwhelming negative mentality of "us versus them" that pervades our society is a virus raging out of control. What can we do to end it? What are we currently doing that we need to do more of?

In order to reverse the trend of public opinion toward teachers and teachers unions as villains in the fight for improving student achievement, we need to raise our voices to demonstrate how supporting teachers = supporting students.

In my seventeen years of teaching, I've experienced in different ways some of the same "pushback" as Rod points out when speaking up about policy or practice from administrators. Some has been direct, and some has been more passive resistance... The only way around it is to be the ultimate professional. I have personally seen an improvement in the impact of my message when sharing my ideas by:

  • Always stating my opinions or suggestions using strength-based, solutions-focused thinking.
  • Always connect my ideas and suggestions directly to how my solutions will benefit students.  
  • No matter what others do or say, remain positive and professional.  (This one is especially hard sometimes!) 
  • If I hear a colleague or parent or community member share a negative, I immediately share a positive with a direct student example to help that person (people) feel connected to the positive.
  • I listen carefully to what others say, and make reference to their comments in specific ways that demonstrate I understand their point while asserting a more strength-based, solutions-oriented idea.

The more we push back the pushback with professionalism, respect for different opinions, and with positivity, the better chances we have of moving towards an improved climate for education.  If we let our anxiety and anger toward situations that we do not have immediate control over dictate our responses to outrageous claims like the Vergara lawsuit, we lose the high ground.  If due process is dropped in California, my Master's Degree, NBCT, and 17 years of service will put me in the same situation that Rod described: my contract could be non-renewed just to save money.  We've already seen this in our district with teachers who were laid off and had to go through the hiring process this year - most of the teachers hired to fill positions are new to the profession, while experienced teachers with 10 - 12 years in our district, Master's degrees, and NBCTs were not rehired.  

Given these scenarios all over the country, in order to demonstrate our professionalism and to increase society's respect for the profession, we have to maintain our vigilance to focus on the positive. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil... right?

Renee Moore Renee Moore commented on June 16, 2014 at 11:52pm:

Selection Not Silence

I agree with you that solution-focused responses are more productive in most ed policy discussions than mere rants.That's why the views of teacherleaders and teacherpreneurs are so valuable in those discussions.  However, I don't think that means we need to play the three monkeys (hear no, see no, say no...). Our colleague Susan Graham always reminds us to assume positive intentions, especially in discussions among colleagues and stakeholders in education. But our unique vantage point as teachers, and particularly those of us who are highly accomplished, comes with a very high ethical responsibility. We should be listening closely, watching sharply, and when necessary speaking up LOUDLY.

That said, we also have to learn to pick our battles, and focus our resources on the issues and audiences that matter. Not every critic of public education deserves to be answered; some just need to be proven wrong. We shouldn't avoid the battles, but whenever possible, we should choose them and our participation wisely.

Cheryl Suliteanu commented on June 17, 2014 at 1:09pm:

different interpretation

Thank you Renee for the pushback. I apologize for my ambiguity.  I not only agree with you about assuming the positive, I share that strategy with others.

See no evil: If educators are sharing videos, writing blogs and editorials, etc. about all the EXCEPTIONAL teaching and learning going on in our classrooms every day, if we flood the public with the positives then we can turn the tides.

Hear no evil: When educators hear others speaking in the negative, and we engage in changing the dialogue to the postive, then the conversations will be focused on the positive.  We need to flood the public with the positives so they hear only positives.

Speak no evil:  As educators it is our responsibility to stay positive.  I agree Renee 100% that it is our responsibility to be listening and observing, and whenever possible, finding the opportunity to SPEAK POSITIVELY. Even when there is mud slinging, we must ALWAYS maintain our professionalism and integrity by pushing back with respect. 

When we are selective about which critics to respond to, are there any suggestions you would give others to guide our choices? How should we address those "insecure and uninformed local school administrators and policymakers"?

Renee Moore Renee Moore commented on June 17, 2014 at 2:04pm:

Taking the high ground

Thanks for expanding on your ideas, Cheryl, they are great suggestions for how we should conduct ourselves in this time of polarizing, half-listening public dialogue. Your suggestions point to the primary strategy I would recommend for dealing with insecure administrators/policymakers. Approaching them from a stance of professional expertise, and of wisdom earned in the classroom trenches and reflected in the success of our students. Unless and until we are actually doing high quality work in our classrooms and making a difference with students, our suggestions (complaints, concerns, etc.) will not have any credence.

Thoughtful choice of tone and words can make a difference in how some in authority respond to our requests and ideas. Timing matters too. No one likes to be embarrassed in public--students or adults--so giving administrators a way to gracefully reverse a bad decision or come out looking good has been known to help grease the wheels of progress. 

Among the most profound lessons I've taken from the civil rights movement has been the need to first check your own motives; then stand unflinchingly on the moral bedrock of justice and equality in the strength of love. I would like to see more of that approach applied in the realm of education reform, and I think highly accomplished teachers will be the ones to lead in this more excellent way.

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