A hot topic in our society, teacher tenure is something we hope for if we do well at our jobs. Tenure is not automatic, however. You may be a good teacher but ruin your chances for tenure by any of the things I discuss here.
For a new teacher or a veteran switching institutions, you are on probation; your job is on thin ice. A probationary teacher can be removed with no warning, no cause and no legal recourse. Perhaps school officials think you have a crappy jump shot or wear ugly shoes. So it is understandable that new teachers are nervous.
But fear not. The truth is that school officials don’t want to evict you. They hired you. Who has more stake in your success than the people who hired you? Of course they want you to thrive. It reflects well on their decision to hire you. They aren’t here to take your job away; they are here to help you do it better. Communicate openly, honestly and clearly.
Still, one’s livelihood is at stake. Here are five things to avoid (and two no-brainers thrown in) for teachers seeking long-term invitations. Our hope is that all dedicated teachers have great careers with much positive influence on students, year in and year out, decade in and decade out.
For your course to become a rite of passage for entire generations of a town’s youth is a noble accomplishment and the reason tenure exists.
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Pitfalls to getting tenure
First, don’t send too many students to the office. Administrators need you to solve your own classroom problems with your own knowledge, strengths and skill. They base their evaluations on this. Students don’t learn anything in the VP’s office, either. Your classroom is where they belong. Do not evict a student just because they challenge you or behave obnoxiously. It eats up the time and energy of school officials to resolve this, and they have other things to do. While there are necessary reasons to expel a student from class, they should be extremely rare. Notice is taken of your classroom management skills.
2. Don’t be a grumbler. Everyone’s morale matters. Yes, we must vent at times. Yes, we can seek out colleagues for support upon occasion but refrain from being a negative voice. You should assume that the things you say will be repeated to school officials. Keep everything positive. If you don’t like your job, the chances are you won’t be keeping it. Vent with only a trusted colleague or mentor behind a closed door, and definitely not on social media. (Feel free to vent to me privately and the issue may become a future post.) Keep it positive with colleagues and students. When you encounter a chronic complainer, get away quickly or change the subject.
3. Do not isolate yourself socially. Some teachers think it’s enough to come to school and work assiduously in their own classroom. The entire institution needs you. Volunteer to chaperone the school dances. Take the tickets at a football game. Referee the charity volleyball game. You don’t have to live there, but make friends. In deciding to separate a non-tenured teacher, often school officials ask themselves how well that teacher fits in with the faculty. Not only must you be an effective educator but also a person who adds to the overall emotional climate of the school.
4. Don’t be late with school bureaucracy and deadlines. The school must function as an institution. Do not be late with lesson plans, feedback forms to guidance, email responses to parents, data at report card time, recommendation letters and a myriad of other things. A school principal will notice you immediately for failure to meet institutional deadlines. Everyone misses one upon rare occasion, but more than rarely is usually lethal to a new teacher’s retention. Complete these tasks even at the expense of the creativity of your teaching. Sad but true.
5. Don’t allow your teaching to result in frequent parent calls. School officials view their teachers as either problem solvers or problem creators. Parent complaint calls are the kiss of death for a new teacher. If the office phone rings with consistent complaints about you, complaints that the principal must adjudicate, then you are a problem creator and most likely not re-hired. School officials don’t want dissatisfied parents. A rare call is okay but strive to find and resolve parent concerns about your work at the lowest conceivable level of school authority. Heading off a parent concern as soon as possible will reduce the chances that the parent involves the higher ups.
A couple of no-brainers that I hope you already know
A non-tenured teacher cannot wind up in the local police blotter. Additionally, under no circumstances can there be even the appearance or suggestion that you are fraternizing with students. Remember that the wall a formality, the wall of separation between teacher and student, must be maintained at all times. This doesn’t mean not to be friendly. Even the appearance of flirtation with a student, fraternization or inappropriate behavior of any kind will get a nontenured teacher automatically terminated. No appeal.
Non-tenured teachers have to prove themselves as valued educators. Teaching great classes, respecting and uplifting kids at all times, being a great colleague worthy of esteem, hard work at all times, and in a couple of decades, they will throw that retirement party for you where everyone is sad to say goodbye to a truly memorable educator.
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