I wanted to be on my high school’s volleyball team so badly. Everyone knew how great the team was and what it meant to be chosen for it. I envisioned myself as a setter and practiced so much for those tryouts. I knew I could make the team proud.
At the end, I didn’t make it. I was bummed out, but I respected the process. I wasn’t good enough to make the team that year, and it made me want to work harder, sprint faster, hustle harder and serve the ball better. I loved going to games that season because I knew that the girls on the team had truly earned their positions.
Eight years later, I was in my first year of teaching at a large middle school. I was teaching sixth grade and was terrified that I wasn’t ready. There were some days that first year where I was truly proud of the work my students and I did, and just as many days when I knew I hadn’t served kids in the way that they deserved. I knew I had so much improvement to make.
At the end of the school year, my assistant principal, who had walked into my classroom just once that entire year, sat down with me to have the evaluation conversation. I was given a satisfactory rating in all areas. In fact, I got the same rating as my partner teacher, a veteran of 12 years. I only needed one more year of teaching with minimal observations to be a tenured professional within that structure.
How was that possible? My partner teacher was so much stronger at her practice. She knew her math and science content inside and out. She planned thoughtful lessons that guided students to deep understandings. The routines in her classroom helped students predict how their day with her would go. While I strived to be great in these areas, I had so much to learn from her. I was far from satisfactory.
Unlike my high school volleyball tryouts, this system apparently didn’t have much of a standard at all. I became a teacher after earning an undergraduate and a graduate degree, so what did this slipshod tenure process say about teaching as profession? What did it say about me as a professional?
On college campuses tenure is viewed as a true, earned professional benchmark. And so it must be in K-12 education if the teaching profession is to have the respect it truly deserves.
What should teachers strive for in earning tenure? What should administrators look for?
Proficiency in teaching requires effective planning, competent execution and a timely and thoughtful response to data. Teachers must be able to demonstrate that they can implement meaningful, standards-driven instruction for their students, guide them to meet rigorous outcomes and plan for improvement once they see the results from that class’s data.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, has introduced AB 1220. Its key provisions focus on moving the minimum amount of time for teachers to be considered for tenure from two years to three, with the possibility of two additional years for teachers who are still developing their craft.
Effective teaching is an explicit prerequisite for earning tenure. This bill moves tenure in the right direction. Teachers are given more time to demonstrate and develop excellence, and their administrators have more time to ensure the best people are instructing their students.
It has to be harder to earn tenure in a profession than through occasional observations and simple ratings, and it certainly has to be harder to earn this than a place on a high school volleyball team. I encourage the Legislature to move on the Weber bill to help solidify what tenure means for K-12 education and the students we serve.
Stephanie Luty Piazza is an eighth-grade humanities teacher at St. Hope Public School’s PS7 Middle School in Sacramento. She is a Teach Plus California Teaching Policy Fellow and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.