Teacher Tenure

August 23, 2016
By Kristen Johnson

Lots and lots of articles in the news today about a “win” for unions in California yesterday. Recently, some students filed suit alleging that their teachers were incompetent due to teacher tenure laws and that ineffective teachers were being dumped in low-income areas instead of being fired. Luckily, the California Supreme Court declined to take up the issue, and opted to allow teachers to keep one of the few perks they have – that being teacher tenure.

What consistently surprises me when I read articles about teachers benefits, unions, etc. are the comments I read from article readers. We teachers always seem to be characterized by the general public as lazy, overpaid, benefits-sucking freeloaders who only take the job to have summers off. I can’t speak for every teacher in the state, obviously, but I can speak to my own experiences as an educator.

I have been an elementary school teacher now for going on 3 years. Most of that time has been spent as a substitute teacher in multiple districts in San Diego County. I have been blessed to spend time in classrooms in every socio-economic class, and I have worked with children from every ethnicity, religion, and background you can possibly imagine. Far and wide, I find teachers in all of these classrooms to be hardworking professionals who give endlessly of their time, energy, passion, and love to their small charges.

The insults hurled in the “comments” sections of these news articles are inaccurate and hurtful, but I take issue with two in particular. One is that teachers are lazy individuals who only want summers off. I started my career as a charter-school teacher, directly following my unpaid 4-month student teachership in which I worked endless hours for no pay so that I could complete my credential program. As a charter school teacher, I arrived to my classroom no later than 7:30 a.m., leaving usually around 4:30 p.m. without a lunch break (not including many days in which I was required to stay late for no extra pay for meetings with the principal, staff members, and parents.) After arriving home, I spent on average another 2-3 hours every night grading papers, doing lesson plans, talking to and emailing parents, and arranging things for the next day. I spent most Saturdays working on lesson plans – generally 9-3 or so, and most Sundays after Church were spent in the same way – generally about 11-3 or so. If you add all of this up, I averaged working 65 hours a week. And, I did all that after taking a $5,000 a year pay cut after switching from a career in secretarial work. So, the thought that I’m “lazy” is appalling.

The second issue I really take issue with is that I am overpaid. As I mentioned above, I was underpaid as a charter school teacher. It isn’t any better as a substitute teacher. Substitute teachers are paid a “daily” rate no matter how many hours we work, and we are not provided with health benefits. The only benefit we receive is inclusion in the teacher’s pension – which we contribute to out of our paychecks. So, if I get sick, I don’t get paid. If there aren’t any jobs available on a given day, I don’t get paid. And, my hourly rate comes out to about $8/hour less than I was making as a secretary with full benefits.

The reason I teach is not for the money, and not for the “overinflated” benefits. I do it because I have committed my life to service and serving children through education is a form of service. It’s important work and I have a passion for education.

Matthew 18:2-6 (NRSV):

2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 
3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 
5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 
6 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
It’s time to build teachers up to enable them to serve the children who need their time and energy. It’s not time to vilify teachers and break them down.
Serve all with love.

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