Editorial: Tenure Protects Good Teachers—And Bad

By Sue Pascoe

In California, teachers must be notified if they will receive tenure after 16 months on the job, which means essentially that after little scrutiny, they receive a life-time tenure.

Teaching is a complicated art: how can you decide if someone will be a great artist in under two years? I don’t think you can.

There are several math teachers at Palisades High School who have made students’ lives hell. A student whose parents have money can possibly get around that nightmare by taking the class online or working with a tutor. But too many families don’t have the money, and their teenager ends up with a D or F and has to take the class again— often with the same teacher. The student ends up hating math, which is actually a delightful subject if taught well.

PaliHi administrators are fully aware of the school’s weak teachers, those who should have never received tenure in the first place. But now that they have it, those teachers are impossible to fire.

My daughter, now 26, had an ineffective science teacher when she was a freshman at Pali. The woman had personality issues and parents wrote letters in an effort to get her out of the school. To no avail; she is still there, although she has since been shuffled to several different classrooms. There has to be a mechanism to boot problem teachers out of a school. I understand that if a teacher has a personality issue with a principal, tenure prevents the teacher being fired: but bad teachers should not be allowed stay in the classroom.

Offer mentoring, videotape the teachers and the classroom, have student assessments about the subject—what did they know going in and how well are they grasping the concepts? But push tenure back for elementary, middle and high school teachers to a minimum of three years.

Keep the good, work with the average and help the bad find a different occupation.

Teacher Appreciation Week begins May 7, and since politicians care more about political contributions than doing the right thing for students by getting bad teachers out of the classroom, take time to remember or thank the good teachers.

PaliHi physics teacher Dave Schalek is amazing; if your child is lucky enough to have him, the world will be opened up in a different way. The same goes for chemistry teacher Carole Smith.

Last Friday, while covering the annual walkathon at Palisades Elementary, I ran into two excellent teachers, Judy Gold and Susan Williams. Gold, who retired and is now subbing, taught fifth grade at that school for years and had all three of my children. (She should have received a special medal just for dealing with our family.) She had the knack for knowing what each student in her classroom needed and how to give it to them.

Williams, who will retire this year, is also delightful. My second child came out of her classroom scoring the tops in all of the standardized testing and on John Hopkins. I also remember Marcia Beaird, who taught kindergarten forever and whose students came out with a love of the great artists.

Listing good teachers, I can’t forget Margo Mandell— a brilliant elementary art teacher, who will be retiring from Village School this year.

Revere has had some exceptional teachers—Craig Honda and his farm; the P.E. teachers, Paul Foxson and Marty Lafolette, who managed to make running “cool;” Robert Aochi, Melvin Agcaoli, Steven Anderson, Daryl Stolper, Carlos Hernandez, Ms. Palmer and Eric Wechsler, all of whom raised kids to new levels in their classrooms.

Look back to your own schooling and just for the heck of it, see if you can connect with a teacher who had an impact on your life or your child’s and tell them thank you this week.

Then email your state assemblyman and state senator and tell them it’s time to change tenure, because all kids deserve better—not just those whose parents can afford to go around the system.

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