The recent Time Magazine cover about Silicon Valley "Millionaires" solving the education woes of the 21st century has gone viral, and for most people in education, the nasty term 'viral' is owning up to its name.
One quick Google search will reveal a myriad of responses to Time's latest teacher tenure slam. (Which, to be fair, is much less provocative than its cover suggests).
Regardless, the coals are burning hot on the issue: Teacher tenure is a problem because bad teachers can't be fired.
And you are right, Time Magazine. That's a huge problem.
Only it's not for the reason you think it is.
Google news reports nearly twenty-five thousand results to the search 'Time Magazine Teacher Tenure'. Twenty. Five. Thousand. Many are responses to the recent article, but others are responses to the articles of yesteryear on the same general topic. Title after title, article after article: New York Educators Respond to TIME's Cover, Randi Weingarten Responds to TIME's Cover. It is everywhere.
Educators and parents alike have been called to arms. And they are ready to fight. TIME is right. TIME is wrong. Teachers are good. Teachers are bad. Teachers shouldn't have tenure; no one else does. Teachers work hard. Teachers should have due process.
And that, my friends, is the problem.
It shouldn't be about teachers at all.
Because what we should be talking about is the kids. The students. The human beings in the classroom that get neither tenure nor merit pay.
Any good educator knows that when evaluating anything in the classroom, the only place to start is the kids. Talking to students gives insight about their thinking. Asking them questions provides information about what and how well they're learning. After all, when excellent teachers reflect on their practice, what do they do? They look at student work and student writing, and they talk to the children about what they know. Because "No learning takes place without the learner." (Perrenoud, 1998). In the world of teaching, learners rule.
Time-tested, research-based practices such as Responsive Classroom emphasize the importance of a teacher recognizing student's value as a human being in order to increase achievement and positive classroom culture. Focus? The students.
Never mind the research that has concluded time and time again that the testing culture, in an effort to hold teachers accountable, has not only failed to achieve what was intended but in many cases, had a negative effect of students.
In 2001, the United Nations defined the goal of education as being 'to empower the child by developing his or her own skills, learning and other capacities, human dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence." Again, it's all about the child.
And yet, the child isn't what anyone is talking about this week.
How can we possibly make positive changes in education when all of our conversations leave out the most important part?
If we are to ever make real change, we need to stay focused on what really matters. Doing anything else is like steering a ship through a storm and only watching the helm.
So, you're right, Time Magazine. Teacher tenure is the problem. Bad teachers are the problem. But not for the reason you think.
The reason those issues are the problem is that for every article, and rebuttal, and argument, and breath spent on this hot button, political issue, there is one less article being written about the one thing, the only thing, that does matter: