CREDIT: Alison Yin / EdSource
T.A.C.L.E. (Technology and Augmentative Communication for Learning Enhancement) is a special day class program at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland.

“Are you sure you want to do this job? You’ll be perpetually stuck in puberty.”

Josh Brown

Those were the first words I heard from a colleague on my first day as a middle school special education teacher. She was only half joking and, five years later, I realize the truism of her question all too well: Pubescent pre-teens are moody, petulant beings. This job definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.

Despite the challenges of the job, I’ve come to love my work and especially enjoy working with new teachers in the profession. Over the last five years, I’ve supervised two teaching credential candidates and mentored two first-year teachers at my school site. I’ve experienced, observed and advised others on the trials and tribulations of early career teachers. As I approach my sixth year in the classroom, I finally feel like I have a basic grasp on the fundamentals of classroom management and effective pedagogy.

Under the current California system, teachers must prove professional competency within two consecutive school years to earn permanent status, known as tenure. On March 15 each year, school site administrators face a binary decision regarding their new teachers: Either grant the educator tenure or dismiss them.

New special education teachers, after just 18 months on the job, are required to prove aptitude in classroom management; standards-based, data-driven pedagogy and Individualized Education Program (IEP) compliance. Given the often contentious nature of IEPs (and most 7th-grade classrooms for that matter), early career educators struggle to manage, let alone master, the diverse skill set of the job within this incredibly short period of time. And if the supervising administrator, school site or class load changes between a preliminary teacher’s first and second year, the task of proving competency becomes that much more difficult. This not only places the administrator in a tough position, it also creates tremendous pressure on the new teacher to prove competency in a short period of time.

But there are now efforts in the state Legislature to change the time for tenure from two years to three years. This would provide teachers the time and space they need to master these complex skills. For example, at my Title I middle school in Los Angeles, our special education department has experienced significant teacher turnover during my first five years on the job. This isn’t surprising: low-income schools and hard-to-staff subject areas like math, science and special education have disproportionately high turnover rates.  This results in a much higher number of new teachers. Given the difficult nature of teaching at-risk students, rookie teachers in Title 1 schools require additional skills that cannot be mastered within 18 months. By extending the time to achieve tenure, we allow teachers serving our most needy students ample time to grow and develop professionally.

Those on the front lines have long known the solution to this problem — an independent statewide survey of 506 teachers in traditional California schools found that 85 percent of teachers think that tenure decisions should be made after at least three years of classroom instruction. In 42 states, permanent status is earned between three and five years. In California, permanent status is earned after just 18 months.

When we teach our students, we understand that skills mastery comes after years of methodical practice. We pre-teach the topic, provide ample opportunities for guided practice and assess as needed. Yet ironically we expect teachers, especially those in the most challenging situations, to demonstrate skills mastery in less than two years.  A longer tenure timeline would respect this learning curve by providing educators the time and support they need to earn the professional distinction of tenure.

•••

Josh Brown teaches 6th, 7th and 8th grade special education at Holmes Middle School in Northridge, where he also serves as the department chair and advisor to student teachers in local credentialing programs. He is a Teach Plus California Teaching Policy Fellowship alumnus.

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  1. Frank 1 week ago1 week ago

    Paul, I concur with your opinion. As a now retired teacher, principal, and superintendent who proudly served for 37 years in California schools, I can cite multiple instances where both the teacher and the evaluating administrator(s) would have benefited from additional time to allow for more professional coaching, feedback, and professional development. Eighteen months is simply too short a period of time. Too often both teachers and the teaching profession are harmed by not … Read More

    Paul,
    I concur with your opinion. As a now retired teacher, principal, and superintendent who proudly served for 37 years in California schools, I can cite multiple instances where both the teacher and the evaluating administrator(s) would have benefited from additional time to allow for more professional coaching, feedback, and professional development. Eighteen months is simply too short a period of time. Too often both teachers and the teaching profession are harmed by not allowing sufficient time to conduct this important phase in the development of the highly effective teacher that every student deserves.

    Replies

    • Frank 1 week ago1 week ago

      Correction:
      Josh, I concur with opinion.
      Frank

  2. Paul 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This research has big holes: 1. A tiny sample of convenience was used, comprising just 506 of the 287,472 teachers who were serving in California's public schools at the time. 2. The survey excluded the people with the most to lose if the granting of permanent status were stopped: the 20,881 candidates who were enrolled in California teacher preparation programs at the time. (Because permanent status is a property interest, it is doubtful that it could be … Read More

    This research has big holes:

    1. A tiny sample of convenience was used, comprising just 506 of the 287,472 teachers who were serving in California’s public schools at the time.

    2. The survey excluded the people with the most to lose if the granting of permanent status were stopped: the 20,881 candidates who were enrolled in California teacher preparation programs at the time. (Because permanent status is a property interest, it is doubtful that it could be taken away arbitrarily from teachers who already possess it.)

    3. The opening sentence of the core survey question, “Currently in California, administrators have about 18 months after a teacher is credentialed to decide whether or not the teacher should be granted tenure”, ignores the fact that many beginning teachers spend a year or more in temporary status before beginning the probationary period.

    4. Though the researchers profess concern about “arbitrary or vindictive decision-making by administrators”, they didn’t survey people who had been denied permanent status! Only currently-employed teachers were surveyed, and this was done in December, before the small number of probationary teachers potentially in the sample knew whether they would be re-elected the following March.

    5. Although successive sections of the report clarify what the researchers mean by “tenure” (not a California Education Code term), the individual survey questions didn’t. Asking how long teachers should spend as at-will employees might elicit a different response than asking how soon they should gain due process termination rights. At least the terminology in either of those questions would have been frank and free of bias. By asking about “tenure”, the researchers appealed to strong biases.

    6. Several survey questions asked teachers to evaluate other teachers, “knowing that your responses are totally confidential”. In California, administrators are trained to perform, and have experience performing, certificated personnel evaluation. Even if several of the 506 teachers who responded also held administrative credentials, it is unlikely that they would have been able to serve their own students and systemically evaluate their colleagues (classroom visits, goal-setting, review of lesson plans and outcomes) at the same time. Critical respondents were not willing to disclose their findings to the deficient teachers, as administrators are required to do when they conduct evaluations. Opinions, offered in secret, are not facts about teacher performance.

    References:

    This is the survey report: http://teachplus.org/sites/default/files/publication/pdf/raising_the_bar_final.pdf

    The number of active teachers in 2014-2015, the year of the survey, is taken from Page 24 of https://www.ctc.ca.gov/docs/default-source/commission/reports/ts-2015-2016-annualrpt.pdf

    The number of teachers enrolled in credential programs in 2014-2015 is taken from Page 15 of https://www.ctc.ca.gov/docs/default-source/commission/reports/ts-2016-2017-annualrpt.pdf

    One discussion of permanent status as a property interest appears in https://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/4th/20/327.html

    Temporary status for beginning teachers is discussed in https://www.sri.com/sites/default/files/publications/sri_bumpy-road.pdf

  3. steve johnson 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    There is no need for three-year tenure. What there is a need for is an end to the subjective state of tenure granting and an end to the power of principals and assistant principals to act as gods over the lives of teachers. There is so much to say about this topic. If the real numbers were shared, all would see it is a sham and a cruel hoax, the first time as tragedy the … Read More

    There is no need for three-year tenure. What there is a need for is an end to the subjective state of tenure granting and an end to the power of principals and assistant principals to act as gods over the lives of teachers. There is so much to say about this topic. If the real numbers were shared, all would see it is a sham and a cruel hoax, the first time as tragedy the second time as farce. All is not well in education, and your commentary adds a bitter postscript to the ongoing turmoil.