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Serving our students

It was ruled less than a week ago in court that California teachers are no longer secured under tenure, laid off on seniority alone, or guaranteed extra job safeguards not enjoyed by other school employees. The seniority system that has protected both effective and ineffective California public school teachers was struck down Tuesday, June 10 and may serve as a model of hiring and firing policies across the nation.

Emily Zheng, a senior this fall 2014 at Arcadia High School

Back in 8th grade, I wrote “Choices of a Lifetime”, a blog that outlined the problems with our district’s public education system. At the time, numerous teachers were being handed pink slips, usually due to seniority. It was painful to see so many highly-qualified, dedicated teachers be dismissed simply because they were not teachers in the district long enough. I have had numerous experiences under teachers with tenure, both good and bad. Some of my best teachers were older and had tenure. They knew how to create engaging classroom settings and knew a lot of material. Whenever I had trouble understanding a concept, they were happy to help me and were inspirational role models.

However, I had just as many teachers under tenure whose performances were not as advanced compared to those without. Some of my teachers expected the class to completely self-study or have already studied the subject before, which put me at a severe disadvantage because I had no form of outside help that many of my peers did. Whenever I asked for help, I was greeted with a sarcastic attitude and obvious reluctance numerous times.

While some teachers say that there are no stupid questions, my other tenured teachers seemed to believe the opposite. Their teaching, if they did so, was rarely passionate and made me question their status as a teacher. They seemed less determined to perform to their potential than I expected from teachers from a high-quality, very education-focused school. When compared to some of my teachers without tenure, the difference was clear.

There are many teachers without tenure who are more qualified than ones with tenure, whether it be the effectiveness of teaching or the willingness to help students learn and grow, but the current public education system today continually outs the new and keeps the old. This does not put the students first. There are many issues with this seniority system. The current permanent employment law either grants or denies permanent employment to teachers after less than 16 months. This span of time is not enough for administrators to fully gauge the effectiveness of teachers and is shorter than the duration of beginner teacher induction programs. Once past this incredibly short amount of time, teachers have less of an incentive to perform as highly as they did when their job was insecure. Plus, the current process to dismiss an ineffective teacher requires so many steps, years of documentation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars that it is next to impossible. On average, only 2.2 teachers are dismissed every year for unsatisfactory performance, which is 0.0008 percent of the 270,000 teachers statewide.

Teachers are invaluable assets to schools and most importantly to students. They have the power to influence future careers and serve as role models to many. The public school system is valuable but not perfect, so Vergara v. California’s ruling that tenure and the seniority system are unconstitutional is just one step towards making our California schools better.

— By Emily Zheng

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