Without a crown, see, I still burn-- KRS One

Without a crown, see, I still burn-- KRS One
This is J. Lahondere. I am egotistical enough to write a blog. Thank you for placating me.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

2013 Hiatus

I know it's 21 days into the 9th month of 2013, but I wanted to make it clear that this is simply another hiatus. I spend a lot of time online (too much) and I often come across blogs that ended one or two years ago. They always have these "goodbye" messages that always strike me as ineffably sad for some reason. I don't even know the people associated with the blogs, I'm just sad that they are gone after what appears to be so many years of work. Some of them are blogs that ran from 2003 through 2008, or 2001 through 2010. And then this goodbye message from 2007 or 2011 just stays there for all time.

I suppose blogs aren't really that important/popular anymore, now that the excitement of being able to publish whatever you want online has definitely worn off. Maybe it's just people my age who were so fascinated by it. We were the ones who were teenagers when suddenly the internet made socializing with the entire earth possible. Those who went before us were too old to care, those who came after saw it as utterly commonplace. Now we're in our late twenties or early thirties and the thrill has diminished? I don't know. It's not like anyone ever read this stuff anyway; I just liked the idea that someone COULD read it.

For people like me it started with personal home pages in the late nineties (Livejournal stuff) and then became really popular with blogging... Then there was Myspace, followed by Facebook (which nobody cares about anymore). It seems that lots of people talk about Twitter, but to me that's just a place for famous people to put out insipid thoughts on insipid topics at however many characters at a time.

Has the internet just become like television? What was once miraculous is now utterly banal and normal? It feels that way to me. It also feels like fewer people care about text-based things where video and pictures are all the rage. A blog is usually just a big block of text and it's really internal and really boring.

I'm not giving up on my blog. In fact, these past couple of years have given me plenty of experiences to write about. Just checking in on this place, so that anyone else like me out there who happens to stumble upon the blog won't see "2012 Hiatus" as the final status and feel a twinge of sadness at it. It's not dead yet. I'll be back when I have something that I actually feel is important enough to write about.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2012 Hiatus

I've decided to put this blog on another hiatus. I do this every year or so because I just get disgusted with the idea of putting my own half-baked thoughts onto the internet. It's a stupid thing and it's vain, I think. I have no desire to talk to anyone at the moment or to have my thoughts read by strangers. I'll come back eventually, when I feel like I have something else worth saying.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Explain Tenure to Idahoans

I'd like to just take a minute to post my thoughts on the phenomenon of teacher tenure and why I feel it is important.

For those that don't know, tenure is a concept in which a teacher is invited to permanently stay at a school after he has taught there for a number of years. The first years of teaching at any school are on a year-to-year basis. At the end of each year the teacher in question is evaluated and the administrators weight out whether or not to offer him a contract for another year. The teacher's skill is taken into consideration as well as his experience and other factors like need and budget. If he is accepted for a fourth year (in Montana) he is offered tenure. This means that from that point on it is understood that he will work at that school permanently, unless, of course, he is fired for some kind of misconduct or some other reason. Each state has its own number of years required to achieve tenure, and it takes longer for a college professor to earn tenure than a high school teacher.

Recently the state of Idaho eliminated all possibility of tenure for any of its new public school teachers. What this means for Idaho educators is that, from now on, teachers will only be hired on a year-by-year basis. And schools can let teachers go at the end of any given school year for any given reason.

I was speaking to someone in church the other day, and he congratulated me on getting hired as a teacher. He asked if we were planning on settling down in Idaho.

"No," I answered, "because there's no tenure in Idaho. It's not a good place to raise a family."

He immediately responded with, "But is it better for education?"

I wasn't surprised by his question, since most conservative non-teachers seem to agree that tenure is bad for students and for education in general.


Most people seem to think that if a teacher has tenure, he is impossible to fire. This naturally leads to teachers who are lazy and who do not care about education, and who only show up to work every day to babysit a classroom and take home a fat paycheck. These teachers hinder the education of young students and ruin lives, all living off of tax dollars.

The thing is--this isn't true. Teachers are most definitely NOT impossible to fire. Teachers can still be fired for anything that is a violation of their contract and for a multitude of other reasons. Let's say you've got a lazy teacher on your hands who does nothing but show movies all day. As an administrator you can sit him down and have a meeting with him. Tell him your concerns. Monitor his classroom. Come up with a plan to change things, cut down the number of movies. Let's say he doesn't comply and continues to engage in the bad behavior. You have a second meeting, you talk again. He still doesn't change. At that point, he can be let go. Because he's violated his contract and he's being insubordinate. You might say it's actually not that easy, but I've known several teachers who were let go just like that. It's not as impossible as you might think.

Perhaps it's harder to fire teachers in states like New York or California which have a lot of protections for their teachers built into the system. But in places like Montana and Idaho, it happens all the time.

You might argue that teachers ought not to have any special protection for their job because people can be laid off at just about any other kind of job and education should be the same.

My counter-argument to that is that although maybe it's true that other employers are allowed to lay off workers whenever they wish, what other job:

1. requires at least a college degree (and in many cases a masters degree)
2. continuing education for the rest of your career (as in 6 college credits or more every 5 years)
3. pays 30,000 a year or about $14 an hour?????

Let's keep in mind that the average salary for jobs that require a college degree is $46,000, or about $21 an hour.

Let's also keep in mind that teaching is an inherently creative job. It requires mental effort to create/implement/adjust curriculum every day. For this reason teachers are often required to work well beyond their contracted hours by bringing work home at the end of the day. Even when one day is over, much planning is required in order for the next day to go smoothly. I do not think engineers, repairmen, physical therapists, accountants and secretaries are required to take their work home with them to successfully do their jobs.

One might argue that some professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.), although not necessarily creative, are required to "take work home" in the form of being on-call. But lawyers and doctors are not paid $30,000 a year in compensation, either.

My point is that tenure is one of the few things that can attract people to the teaching profession. Even if the job is hard and the pay sucks, there can at least be some job security for those willing to seek it. Unfortunately, Idaho does not think this should be so.

And so because there is no tenure here, what is going to compel someone like me to settle down here, buy a house and start a family? Because next year we might see lower enrollment at the school, which means we need to get rid of teachers quick, which means I could be out of a job at any given time.

Some might say that because there is no tenure, teachers will work harder to keep their jobs. This idea might make sense purely in theory, but in practice it is not realistic. Teachers are not laid off or held onto due to their performance in the classroom. Teachers are laid off because of money reasons, pure and simple. And in a tenure-less world it is the teachers who have more education and experience who will be laid off first. Because teachers with higher degrees and more years of experience require larger salaries and will be let go and replaced by younger, less experienced teachers. As teachers gain more years of experience and higher pay they will be let go and newer ones will replace them. This is what Idaho had in mind all along, and it is not good for educators hoping to make a career in the world of academia.

Will the best and brightest teachers want to move to or remain in Idaho? I'm guessing "no." No, Idaho will be content to keep younger and less experienced teachers rotating through the schools, working a few years and then moving away. Education will become more and more automated and done on computers at home instead of in classrooms and eventually most teachers will be done away with. That was the plan all along. To replace human teachers with software in an effort to save money.

Tenure is a good idea. Tenure is the one of the only things a school has to keep teachers from gaining experience and running away to a new job the second something better comes along. It also rewards experience. It is also a good way to provide mentors to younger teachers, who will eventually provide mentorship to the next generation.

By providing a teacher with tenure you are giving a college graduate incentive to settle down in your community, buy a home there, spend his money there, raise his family there, pay his taxes there, etc. Most teachers I know are hard-working people who go to church and have families. We are required by our own profession to continually educate ourselves by taking college courses for life.

Occasionally you will find a teacher who is burned out, too old or otherwise not putting forth his best effort. There are lots of ways to remedy this, including the things I mentioned above. In the end, even if none of those things work and a school is stuck with a lazy teacher--then is it really that big of a loss? It's not like he's a lazy politician or CEO making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Is it enough to destroy a system that has evolved over several centuries of experience?

Worst case scenario is that you've got a lazy teacher earning the maximum salary, which would mean a teacher with a PhD and 40 years of experience. A lazy teacher with a PhD and 40 years of experience? Sounds like any typical college class! And at that point I think the man deserves to be a little lazy. But really, how often does this even happen? In my experience the "lazy" teachers are the ones who earned degrees in some unrelated field 20 years ago and got their teacher licensure just so they could have an excuse to coach sports. In fact, if you want to solve the problem of crappy teachers then try eliminating sports programs from public schools. (As if that will ever happen in super-conservative, super-Republican Idaho.)

Anyway, now if anyone starts to debate you about whether tenure hurts schools you can fight back with some actual logic. You're welcome.