The following is a submission from an educator as part of the Your Soapbox feature, which explores the experiences of educators in North Carolina through their own words. Check out more first person stories here, or if you are an educator, submit your own.
Tenure is not a job for life, it is simply due process rights
When I consider where to start this letter, I am having difficulty. There are so many issues with education in North Carolina and this nation as a whole. How could those who educate children be so devalued? How can those who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of so many in this state become at-will employees without career status? How can a state that is moral and just not see education of all children as a social responsibility? Education is not a choice like buying a television or deciding on a mobile phone provider as some would have it.
Of the many serious concerns, the loss of professional status, tenure, is very troubling. Soon there will be a raise given to teachers who are willing to sign away their tenure. My understanding of the law is that each district is charged with selecting 25% of teachers to have the chance to get the raise. The raise is simply $500 the first year, $1000 the second, $1500 the third and $2000 the fourth. The raise is only funded by the legislature for the first two years and may or may not be funded for the last two. This raise is the same thing teachers would earn if they moved up one step on the North Carolina salary schedule. However, this annual pay step increase has been stopped by our legislature. Are teachers who do not get this raise ever going to be put back on the annual step increase? It is also troubling to note that no guidelines were given to county school systems as to how this selection will be determined. With no consistency, is this really a proper way to handle a person’s salary?
Then we have to consider what will happen to a teacher when tenure is lost. I will have 25 years experience when tenure is lost in 2018. I will also have a master’s degree and National Board Certification. I will be earning a high pay rate for a teacher, but not even entry level for many other professions. Will I lose my job arbitrarily because I earn too much money? If two teachers can be hired for my salary and my tenure, which is simply a due process based on performance, is lost, will my skills and knowledge matter anymore? I have not been offered one of these deals, but need to think about how to proceed if I am. Three groups are fighting this policy legally. What happens to those teachers who took the deal, if tenure is restored through the courts? Have they just lost all due process rights or do they get them back like the other 75% who did not get the raise? Why do teachers even have to worry about such awful things?
Many people misunderstand tenure. It is not a job for life. It is simply protections put in place to protect a teacher from being fired without just cause. A teacher who is struggling must go through an improvement process and will be fired if appropriate progress is not made. I understand most other professions have no such protection. However, education is not like most other professions. I can’t increase my salary by doing a wonderful job. There are no sales bonuses for teachers. There are no performance/production based raises in this profession. In the past we got a bump on the pay scale for coming back the next year, but that has been stopped for the last five years. How many professions have employees who have greater and greater expectations constantly placed on them for stagnant salary for five years? How many people can afford to work in these conditions?
Many teachers say student success is their pay. There is some merit to that statement with regard to our motivation to be a teacher, but it is not our pay. Any parent with a child in my classroom or whose children I’ve taught will say I work tirelessly, lovingly and professionally to help their children learn, grow and succeed. However, my mortgage holder expects money for my house payment. Many times teachers are expected to work for nothing because we love the children. We do love children and want them to succeed. That is why we took a lower-paying job than many of us could have in other professions. The retirement, insurance and job security were some of the reasons many of us could justify earning a lower salary. Tenure (due process rights) is free. It costs the state nothing to offer it to us. There are almost no people who take advantage of tenure to underperform. Tenure simply means you can’t be fired for making too much money or advocating for a child. Writing a letter like this could also be a reason to fire a teacher in the future. Is this really what the residents of this state want for the teachers who have lovingly and effectively educated their children? It is time for all citizens of this state to stand up for teachers and other school staff to let our legislature and governor know a radical agenda is not what the residents of NC want. You want the people who care for and educate your child everyday to be funded at a higher level with resources, supplies and support staff, so we can successfully do our job. Our children deserve the best we all have to give them.