I have spent a lot of time contemplating the concept of tenure lately. It is a concept so foreign to me and recently I have had to face it and all it’s ugliness with my son and wife. This ridiculous notion is that after you have survived a position for a set period of years, typically as a teacher or professor, you achieve tenure or a permanent posting. Basically, it is easier to have a tenured professor killed and disposed of than fired. It is a strange concept, because near as I can figure, it only protects the bad teachers. I mean, if you’re a great teacher, you would keep your job, right? So the only reason to apply tenure is to make sure that bad teachers can’t be fired. I understand that it also protects good teachers from being let go so a younger, less expensive teacher can be brought in, and at the college level that might make sense. But grade school teachers??? Turns out, tenure can be applied to eighth grade teachers! Let’s start from the beginning…
Jack is halfway through 8th grade. He is a good student, never received a grade lower than a C, mostly A’s and B’s. Prior to winter break he came to us and let us know that he was struggling in history. He found out that he was supposed to be getting “stamps” every so often from his teacher and hadn’t been doing so. There were also a few missing assignments that he says he did, but she couldn’t find. Wanting to make this a teachable moment, Laura and I helped him work out a plan to fix this on his own. First, he went to the teacher and asked if he could be graded at a discount. He had done the work, just didn’t know she was supposed to stamp it for points. This was out of the question, very strict policy against this sort of thing. Next step was to go to the principal.
Full disclosure, at this point I had had a phone conversation with both the teacher and principal, and Laura had spoken with several parents of other students in the same class. Turns out that there were several really good students failing this class. I got nothing from the teacher as an explanation of how our son was FAILING history and we had never heard from her. I asked what the percentage of students a C or better, and she had said she didn’t know and wouldn’t tell me if she did. She had signed off on his playing basketball midway through the first semester. When I asked her how she approved him playing when he had an F, she told me that she was behind on grading papers, so she didn’t know what his grade was then. In speaking to the principal, a person I used to have a lot of respect for, she told us that since Jack couldn’t prove he did the work, she would be taking the teachers word for what happened. She stated that all things being equal she would always side with the teacher. When Jackson finally got a meeting with the principal, he was told “your best bet is to suck up to the teacher and try and get extra points that way”. I am confident she said this to him as she admitted saying it to me. Awesome teaching strategy there, right?
When Jackson met with the teacher and the principal a plan was formed. The teacher had “graciously” (her word) agreed to let him redo the notebook over break and he could earn a max of 80 out of the original 120 points. Great! At least there was a discussion and an actionable plan. So over break, with Laura checking on him, he completed the redo of the notebook. He turned it in and got 67 out of 80. Sweet, that 84% a solid B, right? No, no, no silly. That’s 67 out of 120, she explained. Sorry, still an F, try again next time. So her plan was to set up a makeup assignment that, if perfectly executed, would garner a grade of 67%???
After we found this out Laura called and asked for a meeting with the principal and teacher. This was in early January. Weeks went by. We saw the principal around campus, “I’m working on it:” she said. Exasperated, Laura went to one of the superintendents and asked for some help. Funny how she got a call back the next day, even though the soonest they could meet was another two weeks away. At least we were finally going to get to the bottom of this.
The day of the meeting comes and I can tell Laura is conflicted. Her only goal is for Jackson to “walk” with his class at graduation. At the same time she is aware that my goal is to get this teacher drawn and quartered. I convince her I will be on my best behavior and for the most part I was. Laura made a clear case of why we were confused about her grading structure. How could all these students be failing and it be of no apparent concern to the teacher or principal? The principal informs us that a student can technically have 3 semester F’s and graduate. What??? OK, overcrowding in schools, I get that. What I don’t get is that you have a number of good students failing and there are no alarm bells? No chance the teacher’s system sucks? It got so comical in the meeting that I finally asked that if Jackson was going to fail this class anyway, could he take the F and do study hall or something else productive, rather than sit in this incompetent teacher’s class knowing that he could do no better than an F if he tried his best? Nope, state requirements say he has to sit there. I guess state requirements don’t say that the teacher has to give a crap about the students.
I get that this is a problem all over. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. But there are a lot of really good teachers out there who are out of work. And yet, because of this concept of tenure, my son is stuck with a dinosaur that can’t be fired for incompetence. How have we created a system where a teacher can go through the motions with a complete lack of concern for the students she is charged with teaching, and there are no repercussions? What is the advantage of this system? I wish I had a funny, witty answer to this but I really don’t. It’s pathetic.
Here is the life lesson, Jack. Do what you love, as long as you love it. But as soon as you dread going to work, as this battle axe does, get out. Don’t impose your misery on those around you. Especially if those around you are young minds you are supposed to be molding. But most importantly, don’t sweat the things you can’t change. Enjoy the knowledge you are getting about our great history as a nation, and don’t worry about the grade. Your mom and I know that it is meaningless.