Teaching is often a challenging profession.
Studying best practices in public education has proven that having a fair and orderly process for issues that may arise helps teachers be the best professionals they can be.
Yet there is great confusion statewide among educators, administrators and local school boards on the status of teacher tenure in Tennessee.
“Tenure still very much exists in Tennessee,” said Virginia McCoy, TEA staff attorney. “While the law was amended in 2011 to change the way teachers become eligible for tenure, it was not abolished and remains an important part of the teaching profession.”
What is tenure?
Many teachers, and certainly the general public, are uncertain of what exactly having tenure means.
Tenure is designed to ensure due process on discipline or dismissal, protecting a teacher for failing a star athelete or providing a hearing on questionable claims made by an unreasonable parent. Tenured teachers enjoy continuing employment, and are not at-risk for non-renewal — they can only be dismissed for cause.
“It is not a ‘guaranteed job for life,’ as some opponents say. It simply provides a process to make sure dedicated veteran teachers are treated fairly and won’t be dismissed for unjust or unfounded reasons, Both tenured and non-tenured teachers can be dismissed for cause,” McCoy said.
State law provides that a district may dismiss any teacher for the following reasons: incompetence, inefficiency, insubordination, neglect of duty or improper conduct.
How do you get tenure?
Under the amended law, teachers become eligible for tenure after completing a probationary period of five school years or not less than 45 months within the last seven-year period; received summative evaluations of 4s and 5s during the last two years of the probationary period; and has been reemployed by the director after the probationary period.
Once eligible, state law requires that the director of schools either recommends the teacher for tenure to the local board or non-renew the teacher. If a teacher is recommended for tenure, the board must vote to either grant or deny tenure. It is important to understand that if tenure is not granted, the teacher cannot be continued in employment in that district.
“TEA legal and field staff are hearing more and more reports of this process not being followed. Some school districts have stopped recommending teachers for tenure all together, even though they meet all of the criteria,” McCoy said.
This is the first year many teachers are becoming eligible for tenure after the law changed in 2011. This transition, coupled with the delay of summative scores from the 2015-16 school year, has created the perfect storm for confusion at all levels.
“Our number one priority is that TEA members are treated fairly. In partnership with TEA UniServ staff and our local affiliates, our legal team is working hard to ensure school districts are following state law and moving forward with recommending eligible teachers for tenure status,” McCoy said.
Why do you need tenure?
Teachers in Shelby County Schools experienced first-hand the significance of tenure when the district began the process of displacing teachers regardless of tenure status.
While tenure doesn’t protect an ineffective teacher from losing her job, it is there to protect the good teachers from being unfairly dismissed – or “excessed,” as Shelby County called it.
TEA Legal won a recent federal court case against excessing and is continuing to advocate for members statewide.
“My advice to our members is to work with your local association leaders and TEA UniServ coordinator to have your district to follow the state tenure law and recommend eligible teachers for tenure,” McCoy said.