Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Job Security in California

Read this. Push back on it. My thoughts on teacher job security are definitely evolving. I’m hoping that getting some of these thoughts down will both solidify my thoughts and get some pushback to make them better.
Though what happens on Voxer stays on Voxer, I’d like to dedicate this post to the awesome peeps in my #caedchat moderator Voxer channel. We spent a week going back and forth on tenure in California. They’ve pushed my thinking a ton. These ideas are mine – attack me, not them – but I’m building on the ideas of eight other awesome people. #BetterTogether – always.

Special thanks to John Stevens for reading this post in draft stages. Errors - or downright stupid things - that remain are my mistake, not John’s.
I got RIFed – reduction in force (basically, fired at the end of the school year because you’re the lowest person with seniority and there are either budgetary or enrollment uncertainties for the next school year) – my first year teaching. It sucked for a lot of reasons, but because I got hired with two good friends to be on a teaching team and we all got RIFed it was a pretty unhappy time. Eventually I got my job back.
I got BTSA support for the first two years I was in the classroom. I had evaluations, but I don’t really remember anything about them. They didn’t particularly push me or challenge me: they got done, and I was rated as satisfactory – or whatever the word is.
I wasn’t RIFed after year two. Which was nice. This meant that after March 15th of year two – I think that was the magic day administrators had to pink slip people by – I was a tenured teacher. Unless I really screwed up, I was going to be back – WITH tenure – for the foreseeable future in my district.
Did I deserve tenure after two years? Probably not. Do I deserve it now, after six years? I’m not sure. I’d like to think I take risks and try new things in my classroom, and I’d like to think that qualities like that make me deserving of some job protection.
Tenure has afforded me some freedoms, particularly this past year. I was able to live the ‘ask forgiveness, not permission’ maxim because I was tenured. I didn’t do anything illegal or questionable in my room. Everything I did I could defend with my school’s graduate profile or cornerstones, WASC goals, and the Common Core. But I didn’t ask for permission to get rid of tests. Or to spend every Friday of the year on #20time. I just did them because it was that I thought was best for kids. I knew if pushed I could defend them. But I didn’t want to be told no. So I did what I thought was best. To my knowledge, there was very little pushback and in fact a lot of really excited kids and parents.
When the Vergara verdict came down, I was initially angry. How dare they – the politicians and judges who haven’t the faintest clue what it is like in a classroom in 2000, much less 2014 (or what is best for kids) – take away this right from me?!? Then I saw a couple friends – people who think divergently and creatively about education – celebrating the end of tenure in California.
And I had to pause and think. I agreed with much of what these ‘down with tenure’ teachers had to say – they were people I’ve collaborated with and have immense professional respect for.
So let’s ditch my preconceived notions about tenure. And really think about what it is, who it protects, and who it hurts.
Does tenure hurt some students? Undoubtedly. Does it protect some bad teachers? Undoubtedly. Does that mean we should get rid of tenure? Maybe. But hear this: good teachers need job protection.
Undoubtedly Vergara will be fought over in court. I’m assuming tenure isn’t quite gone yet. But there are aspects of tenure that need fixing.
So what should job protection look like for teachers look like? Let’s talk about that.
Teachers shouldn’t get tenure day one of year three teaching. Period. That needs to be gone.
What if there was a set of performance-related tasks that teachers needed to demonstrate competency on in order to receive job protection? NONE of this would be related to standardized test scores. Differentiation; working with English language learners; working with special populations within a classroom – GATE students, students with 504s and IEPs, etc; integrating student choice; classroom management; classroom climate; facilitation of collaborative activities for students; collaborative ability within PLCs at your school site; innovative pedagogy; parent and student feedback – this is by no means an exhaustive list, but in order for teachers to get job protection initially they would get four or five years to demonstrate competency in these areas.
Who would the responsibility fall on to get teachers to this point? BTSA mentors would be used the first three years with the work of BTSA time being explicitly mapped at increasing teacher effectiveness in the performance related tasks listed above. These BTSA mentors wouldn’t be doing the evaluations of this teacher - this is still the administrator’s role - but they would be setting up new teachers to have some direct guidance towards their evaluation criteria.
Administrators in the building would need to become the instructional leaders that administrators should be. All evaluations for the first five years of a teacher’s career would be focused on these performance related areas. As the BTSA mentor fades out (remember, just feedback, no evaluation), it is the job of administrators to provide their teachers feedback and professional development opportunities that are specifically tailored to achieve teacher competency in the performance areas.
After teachers get this initial clearance, they get two years of job protection. After this two years is up, teachers could opt for varying levels of job protection: say a two year clearance, a four year clearance, or a six year clearance. Clearly the bar would be higher for a six year clearance than a two year clearance.
Regardless, teachers could choose the level of challenge they want in an evaluation. At the same time, educators get to choose length of job protection that they desired.  As teachers get six year clearances, clearly they are leaders on the campus. These teachers are natural places for new or struggling teachers to go to to see master teachers in action.

Is this idea fully developed? No. Will it ever happen? Probably not. Do teachers need tenure as it currently exists? No. HOWEVER, good teachers need job protection – not for life, but for periods of time. We need a system that protects good teachers, but allows administrators to get rid of weaker teachers. Perhaps this is an initial offering in that area.
Thoughts? Responses? Pushback? Bring it on – I welcome your responses.