(MURFREESBORO) Teaching is one of the most honorable professions a person can choose. However, society does not always treat it as such. Often, we do not treat each other honorably within the profession. Teaching is being devalued by stakeholders and policymakers for various reasons causing diminishing respect for our profession.
Teachers are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system and are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected in a lack of parental support and engagement.
In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education. Yet often, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school. But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state. Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation.
Educators work incredibly long hours, doing thankless tasks that many other professionals do not have to do. Teacher behaviors, personality traits, subject content knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge are complicated and usually connected to classroom success.
Chester Finn points out that teacher tenure is built around three pillars: job security; protection against diverse forms of discrimination, favoritism, and capriciousness on the part of employers; and academic freedom ---which does have limits. All these issues must be continuously addressed and clarified for all teachers regardless of tenure status.
Tennessee Code §49-5-504 tells us once a teacher is eligible for tenure, the teacher shall be either recommended by the director of schools for tenure or be non-renewed. For teachers without tenure, TCA §49-5-409 states that teachers in public schools continue until they have received written notice from their board of education or director of schools, as appropriate, of their dismissal or failure of reelection. The notice must be received within five (5) business days following the last instructional day for the school year to be applicable to the next succeeding school year.
A non-tenured, dismissed teacher has rights. Non-tenured teachers who are dismissed during their contract and before contract expiration should be aware of §49-2-301(b)(i)(EE) which affords them the right to a hearing. Certain procedures are required, but keep in mind these are generated by a dismissal during the term of their contract, not by a non-renewal.
If a teaching position is eliminated after June 15th for sufficient, just, and non-discriminatory reasons the educator is to be notified immediately in writing. The notification must state the reasons for abolishing the position. The person is entitled to the next position that they are qualified to hold and opens within the system during the remainder of the school year.
Many teachers who are facing non-renewal choose to resign. It looks better on their resume. Many school system applications ask if someone has ever been non-renewed. This is unfair, and the practice should be examined. Why?
The non-renewal rate is 2% and is often unrelated to job performance. Most are budget-related, changes in student enrollment, elimination of a subject/class, or connected to licensure. Sometimes it is personal because you are the newest teacher, or the principal thinks you are not “a good fit” for their school or they are “going in a new direction.” Personal reasons are highly subjective. A district is not required to provide a specific reason for the non-renewal of a teacher.
There are steps to take if you receive a non-renewal. Remain calm and advocate for yourself while remaining professional. You can request to meet with your administrator to build additional rapport and understanding. A genuine desire to know what can be done to retain your position or improve your career can make a difference. This may include adding additional credentials, adjustment of job responsibilities, or a simple willingness to enhance competence, confidence, and leadership skills.
A reason for non-renewal may be found in evaluation documents and teachers should work to improve and attend professional development opportunities to address areas of need improvement. Associations like ours provide training and can assist if local administrators have not followed policies or laws. School leaders must comply with evaluation and notification requirements. If the non-renewal process is not concluded, submitting a resignation letter may be an option. Resigning from a position looks better than a non-renewal.
Obtaining a new job as soon as possible is obviously important. Compiling letters of recommendation from school leaders, district leaders, and other colleagues will be valuable in the pursuit of your professional goals. There are numerous teaching vacancies across the state, so check school districts, charter schools, and private school websites for teaching vacancies often. Make sure to keep your resume current.
We need to do all we can to keep good educators, administrators, and school support personnel in our schools.
Administrators should treat their teachers as professionals and allow them time to develop their skills. Above all other professions, teachers deserve support, recognition, and gratitude for a job well done. Doing so regularly will be a small step toward improving teacher turnover rates.
j.c. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Mike Sheppard is the General Counsel of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.