On #ED25 and Tenure

For those of you who’ve known me longer than about the last 37 seconds, you know I’ve been critical in recent years of the whole “education reform” movement, which seeks to define the education profession by our students’ ability to perform well on standardized tests and then take action against schools and educators based on this “results-driven” ideology.

I’ve taken many jabs at education reform groups in Delaware, such as the Rodel Foundation, the Vision Coalition, as well as public bodies like the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, which have preferred to sidle up to these flavor-of-the-week #edreformers. I don’t feel these groups have the best interests of our students in mind, but not out of any malicious intent. I truly believe they feel what they’re doing is what’s best for our students. However, their very myopic, corporate-driven worldview clashes almost wholly with the experiences the educators in our public school system are faced with on a daily basis.

Recently, the Vision Coalition announced a new initiative, #ED25, which is short for Vision 2025. I’ve made jokes in the past pointing to the fact that in the past few years we’ve gone from Vision 2012 to Vision 2015 to — very briefly and comically — Vision 2020 and now Vision 2025. The #edreformers are sensing that they, perhaps, don’t have the ingredients to get the outcomes they’re demanding, so they’ve opted to — again — move the goal posts a decade down the road when it’s very likely a majority of the stakeholders will have moved on to other activities and therefore absolved themselves of any accountability to the movement they built.

Yes, I’ve been critical. And I was going in to today’s #ED25 Community Conversation with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’ve found past Vision and Rodel events to be very scripted and light on key stakeholder participation. By “key stakeholder” I’m referring to parents and teachers. However, today was different, perhaps because the forum was held in the middle of summer when teachers are on their break. The number of teachers who were there and who SPOKE OUT was phenomenal. So great a job they did representing our profession, that I didn’t even feel the need to open my big fat mouth. And, for those who know me, this is a rarity.

One teacher in particular — a librarian from Christina School District — spoke eloquently to the crowd demanding they visit our public schools, saying until they have, that forums like this are like looking down from the clouds with very little perspective. As the event closed, I introduced myself to her and we had a great conversation about teachers finally rising up and responding to the #edreformers who are so casually and wrongly defining our profession for us. She agreed it’s time we need to go on the offense and put OUR message out there to advocate not only for our profession, but for the children we represent 180 days out of the year.

As we finished, this woman was approached by WDEL Reporter Amy Cherry, who wanted to interview her. She was hesitant. She told Amy that she didn’t want to speak up “for fear of losing her job.” Hold the phone. Hold the phone one damn minute. What? I walked right up and interjected and said “You get on that microphone. You need to be heard. What you said today was too valuable. I know your local association president. I know your school board. I know your superintendent. You aren’t going to lose your job for saying what needs to be said.”

And this, my friends, is why we need due process for our educators. This is why the Vergara decision out of California was so poorly decided. Our educators have a voice. This woman was not alone. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told by members in Red Clay “I don’t want to speak up because I fear I may lose my job.”

This is one of the reasons why we’re in the position we’re in. Teachers have allowed those with questionable interests to define the work we do. Too afraid to “rock the boat” and speak out, teachers have just gone along to get along. To do the work they’ve chosen and want to do with their students. To not cause a fuss. To just do their work.

Tenure is a hot topic these days. However, it’s now up to us to wrest from the hands of the reformers their deformed definition of tenure and to get the real definition out there: “Tenure” is due-process rights for teachers who’ve successfully passed a probationary period of teaching (in Delaware that period is three years). “Tenure” affords these teachers a process that includes a fair hearing before the school board before their employment can be terminated. In my (relatively short) experience, tenure has protected far more great teachers who’ve been disciplined because of speaking out than it has “bad teachers” who are plaguing our education system.

Without tenure, would we have been able to rally as many teachers as we did last year to appeal to the school board to slow down the vote on Red Clay’s plans for inclusion? Honestly…would we have? Teachers who were coming out in droves to ADVOCATE for their ELL and students with special needs. Tenure protected their right to speak free from retaliation and potential termination.

With the California judge’s tossing of due process rights for educators, he is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In every way, throwing out those rights will have a negative impact on schools and our children because teachers will be less inclined to speak up than they already are. By eliminating due process, we are hastening terminations in a profession that craves stability and investment from those who’ve chosen to enter it. Want to get rid of the bad teachers? There are processes in place to deal with them — it’s just following them that needs to be done with absolute fidelity.

In essence, the woman afraid to speak on camera today COULD very well be retaliated against and terminated if her employer feels her comments are out of line. Without tenure, her firing would be completely legal and there’d be no recourse. This. Is. Not. Right. Our society should fully value the contributions of our educators, both inside and outside the classroom.

Teachers — we’ve been quiet for too damn long. Every teacher in this state needs to stand up. When you’re at the Thanksgiving table and your crazy uncle starts spouting off on education today and “those damn teacher unions,” it’s your job to shoot down the bullshit as a representative of an ailing profession that needs as much support as it can get. When the governor visits your school and asks how things are going, BE HONEST. Don’t sugarcoat the shit when you have to return to a high school English class with 42 students. Tell him and the legislature to do their damn jobs and look at revising our school funding/class-size system.

Tenure is our right. Due process is our right. We’ve bargained for it. We’ve earned it. Our students have earned it. Keep speaking up, Christina Librarian. We need you. Your students need you.