TIME to Beat up Teachers

The cover of TIME magazine

A fabulous friend recently said to me, “I’m just so tired of the new national pastime – Beat up a Teacher.” She had seen the nasty cover of Time with a court gavel about to smash an apple (a good one by the way). She had seen the title she knew was a lie: Its nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. But I think what pushed her over the edge was the subheading: A group of Silicon Valley investors wants to change that.

The irony drips. The Wolves of Wall Street woke up one day and decided simultaneously that all the problems with American education could be solved by…firing teachers. Seriously?

My dear friend could not even muster outrage. She was just tired. She saw prestigious Time as next up to bat in a long line of cheap swings at teachers.

Time could have written about any number of ways to improve our schools–restoring school funding, actually ensuring equity, and ending the insane and costly No Child Left Behind testing regime, which has replaced real classroom instruction with tests, tests, and more tests. Instead, Time decided to write about tenure. They came to the astonishing conclusion that the one critical reform we must make is to make it easier to fire teachers.

Due process policies like tenure exist in almost every state. Although timelines and appeal processes differ, the concept is the same: After passing a probationary period and satisfying performance expectations, teachers get two basic things before they can be fired: (1) The teacher gets to know why. (2) If she feels she is a good teacher being fired for a bad reason, she gets to defend herself and tell her side of the story. That’s it.

States continually review whether their tenure policies are fair, efficient, and effective. More than 31 states have revised their tenure and dismissal policies in just the last few years. Policies are changed all the time. But the purpose of tenure – to protect good teachers from being fired for bad reasons – is the constant.

I had a hot argument with a guy who truly believed that if you were a good teacher, you didn’t need tenure. He said, “Teachers used to be fired for their religious or political beliefs. That never happens anymore.” His point: Only incompetent teachers are at risk. His conclusion: Take away tenure because incompetent teachers should not have the right to defend themselves.

So I told him about Jennifer.

Jennifer asked me not to use her last name because she is afraid of being fired. Jennifer is a Special Education teacher who talks about her students with such pride and such love. But there were tears in her eyes when she told me what mandated testing did to her beloved students. Parents started asking her questions about these tests. Jennifer talked to me as her union leader to ask if she could get fired for giving parents information about their right to opt out or whether she could be terminated if she gave them her professional opinion about how these tests might negatively affect their kids.

She is right to be afraid. She could get fired in some states for telling parents the truth. We get questions from teachers about whether they could get fired for refusing a parent’s order to change a student’s grade. Teachers all over the country have wondered if they can be fired on the basis of the now widely discredited VooDoo Value-Added-Measure, which pretends to place a human child into a test tube and magically tease out all the factors that could affect that particular child’s score on that particular day with the remaining numbers being the “value” the teacher “added” to the score. There is, of course, no such equation.

My friend may be tired, but I am not. Time needs to celebrate the real heroes of our schools: the teachers who greet students every day at the school house door and take them as they come.

Tenure lets teachers challenge students with demanding curriculum choices, and to grade students fairly based on the students’ work rather their parents’ connections. It allows teachers to speak out when school districts cut corners or cut budgets.

Good teachers know the Blame the Teacher game is a distraction from talking about real solutions like reducing class sizes, giving our students time for meaningful one-on-one instruction, and funding great schools for all kids regardless of their zip code.

I love all my tired and frustrated friends, but we won’t be sleeping through this debate. The public wants real, common sense solutions. Teachers have them if only Time would ask.

This was originally posted on TIME.com.

12 Responses to “TIME to Beat up Teachers”

  1. LaVerne Dickerson

    Thank you Lily! I call it the ” Deep Pocket” Movement. They have a monopoly on their business and now they know more about education than educators. They see our children with ($$$$) the dollar signs. Teachers are seen as stumbling blocks to their conquest especially if they are Union members. Therefore teachers are threaten and belittled in the face of the public. When will the public open their eyes and mouths to support teachers.
    The teacher bashers have not been in a school since they were students and they were probably not a good student.

  2. Theresa Mennecke

    I read this article and was just sick! I have cancelled my subscription to Time. I was a school counselor for 35 years and was threatened several times with losing my job because I stood up for myself, my students and parents against administrators and school board members. Because of due process they could not show that I had done anything wrong. You have always been able to fire a bad teacher, but you have to have documentation to show why they are bad and what you did to try and help them improve.

  3. Melissa Sewell

    Thank you Lily for this well-written common sense reply. I’ve shared it on my Facebook as have many of my teacher friends. The louder we are, the more we can change opinions…I hope, anyway. I count myself as one of those tired people. Thanks for being our voice!

  4. Greg Polk

    It’s easy to blame the teacher…the lack of respect for a teacher in the public eye and the classroom is appalling…the problem lies in the ‘family unit’…broken families, unhappy children, issues in the classroom…if a students’ family is in disarray, how can we ask a student to care deeply about their academics?

  5. Heidi florian

    If I had the money I would buy all the TIME nov 3rd magazines so all those it hurts would not have be subject to this insult.

  6. Rebecca Cole

    I am a longtime teacher, parent, and teacher association leader. It makes me so frustrated (to put it politely) to see a superpower like TIME use its power to spread vitriol just to sell copies, when it could actually do so much more good for students by engaging in some real journalism and telling the stories of the teachers and students of our learning communities. I, like many of my colleagues, give 100+% for our students every single day, no matter how fast the “game” changes or how many young learners are entrusted to our care or how many hoops we are expected to jump through so that we can get on with the business we know is most important: shaping minds, growing citizens, fostering humanity. If anyone in our profession is not up to that challenge, I do not think that “tenure” (a glaring misnomer, in many cases) should preclude them from being shown the door. However, we have fought hard for the due process which ensures a fair evaluation of one’s practice and to which I feel every employee should be entitled, regardless of their profession. Teaching is a calling unlike many others, wherein working conditions change daily (sometimes hourly), depending on the young people in front of you and their readiness for what their day has in store for them, both in and out of the classroom. TIME owes it to the entire teaching and learning community to fully experience at least a day in the shoes of our educators and learners, with a fair and accurate report of all stakeholders’ perspectives. Otherwise, it is no better than any supermarket tabloid, spouting sensationalist propaganda for its own gain, under the guise of caring for those who are often not even old enough to read its pages.

  7. Mari Bonomi

    Brava, Madame President!

    You are one of the most exciting breaths of fresh air to come to the national level in– dare I say it? decades.

    (Perhaps since my personal idol, Mary Hatwood Futrell!)

    I spent over 25 years of my 36-year teaching career in a leadership role of some sort in my local, including 3 different stints as president, as well as repeated turns processing grievances and crafting contract language. I’m proud of every second of that time, just as I am proud of what I accomplished in my classroom and in the hallways. And I am also proud of the service I gave to my profession in staff development and as part of the BEST program when CT had the best novice teacher induction and assessment process for certification in the US. (Shame on the CEA for whining it to death!)

    I’m a retired life member of CEA and NEA and remain committed to advocating for public education and public educators.

    Thank you for posting as you have on the Time.com site. Sadly, they will not publish it in the magazine which no longer offers letters to the editor. (I am a subscribe, and I am *steamed*!)

  8. Karl Dziura

    We need to start pointing out that there are many bad apples among administrators and that without “tenure” or just cause legislation, many administrators would abuse their authority. Why are school administrators never part of these conversations?

  9. Kathleen Tisoncik

    TIME should be ashamed. Disgraceful!

  10. Joy Lauree Schott

    Dear Lily,
    I am one of your tired and frustrated friends. I have heard you speak at several different Nebraska State Ed. Association Delegate Assemblies or NEA and truly feel your passion when you speak. I too am one that truly believes that teachers can change the world. This is my eighteenth year of teaching and still feel eager to get to school and “do something exciting” with my students to enhance their learning. However, I have been experiencing “Bullying in the Workplace” for the past ten years. When I tackle something that challenges me I want to give it my ALL and never do I consider that some would perceive that as a detriment in my character or work ethic. In 2004 I served on our local (rural small town) negotiations committee. I was the only on the committee in the beginning because everyone else felt as though they had served enough. At this time I had been teaching for 8 years. The information was all new to me and I just did what the NSEA suggested you do on their checklist. I asked for the last five years Annual Yearly Reports from my administrator and other such documents. At that time I really didn’t know what I was going to do with them, but I infuriated my administrator by just asking for them. Long story short I tactfully stated that administration salaries (he was asking for $113,000 ten years ago in a community of 1,000 people with 300-350 students MAX. in our district) was as big of a budgetary concern as the teaching staff salaries because it essentially all comes out of the same pot. That burned my first bridge. In 2009 my students and I won $30,000 worth of technology from E-Instruction Video Contest and I received no acknowledgement from my administration. They did not even speak at the award ceremony. Nothing. In 2013 my sixth grade students completed a project that commissioned and erected a Children’s Peace Monument on our school grounds (I have included the link to the video at the bottom that shows the beautiful monument that the students raised money to make possible). Now, today I am suffering a schedule that does not give me enough time to grade a stack of papers and have 29 students in my classroom. I have been shunned by administration and am never put on committees to represent. My opinions and views are not valued and it is miserable. I know that I could move and change school systems but in our rural Nebraska it is much different. I would lose at least $20,000 and that is saying that someone would hire me with a Master’s Degree and eighteen years of experience. I also teach in the classroom that my late Grandma Laura taught in and am using the desk that she once sat in. I know that I am a good teacher and I want to be as good as I am capable of being. Yet, I am in fear of losing my job. It is so hard to go to school every day and hold my head up high and pretend that my heart doesn’t hurt. Bad teachers are not the only ones that administrators want to get rid of!
    Link to our Video Contest Win:
    Link to our Children’s Peace Monument Video:

    Thank you for everything you do for education! You are deeply appreciated!
    Joy Schott
    Burwell Public Schools
    Burwell, Nebraska

  11. Chantal Logan

    There needs to be some national outrage at the irresponsibility of Time magazine which discredits teachers on its front page! An investigation should be made to know who is behind this editorial, who paid for it and whose interests it serves. One thing for sure is that it does not promote a better education for all.
    I hope the NEA can continue to speak out loudly against the belittling of teachers in the media. Thank you for upholding us!

  12. Bessie Wright

    Thanks for addressing the issue. I’m appalled at how they discredit teachers after all the money we invest in their magazine. I will DEFINITELY NOT be subscribing any longer.


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