The best one liner I ever heard about tenure is the following:
The tenure system promotes obsequious behavior from teachers before they get it and outrageous behavior afterward.
It's amusing, and may be true for a small handful of teachers, but not for most.
Tenure does, in part, what it was intended to do - i.e., provide some small measure of protection for people whose job it is to teach critical thinking and intellectual inquiry, both of which require the free exchange of what are often controversial ideas. Lazy and ineffectual teachers may be a problem, but not a big one.
Almost every teacher I know spends countless hours working to make the classroom experience more challenging, more exciting, more interesting and more valuable for students. Most teachers I know are genuinely concerned with their students and work diligently to see that rare look of true intellectual awakening on their faces.
Most teachers I know work much longer and much harder than any administrator I've ever come in contact with. And, I'd be willing to lay money on the fact that they work longer and harder than the members of the legislature who have been so vigorously attacking them and their right to tenure. And teachers are not working or making deals over power lunches subsidized by lobbyists, they are working in modest homes on what is laughingly called their "own" time. Many of them are actually subsidizing the public institutions they work for by buying equipment, supplies and materials the school system fails to provide.
To hear some of the members of the legislature tell it, if we just get rid of tenure and all those lazy teachers, the school system will be just be hunky dorie. I don't think so. .
Teachers and tenure may be an easy target. But this is just one more instance of seizing on a quick-fix simplistic solution to a problem neither the legislature nor the society wants to deal with or admit.
Quality instruction in schools and universities is not primarily hampered by the sloth promoted by the tenure system. Quality instruction is hampered because teachers find it difficult to teach anymore. During my years as a university professor (and remember this is at the university level, where students are paying to attend college) I have had students curse me openly in the classroom, tell me in front of a classroom of other students they were not going to take this Bull ____ from me anymore, and walk out of my classroom telling me their reason for doing so was none of my business.
I have had male students throw books across the classroom in a fit of temper, pound the door of my classroom with fists in a rage, make obscene gestures to me from the back of the room, light up a marijuana cigarette in my classroom, and I had one male student lean across my desk putting his face within inches of mine, stare me straight in the eye and snort phlegm down his throat in at attempt to disgust and intimidate me.
I have had a male student scream in fury down a hallway at me, ordering me to get a male member of the faculty for him to talk with.
You might think that students like this don't belong in a university setting, but when teachers try to have such students removed from their classrooms, they are often not backed up by administrators who refuse to take action and warn in ominous tones that the student may "cause trouble" or "go to the President" or that horrors of horrors the student's parents "might phone."
No teacher can teach in such an environment. And taking away teacher tenure is not going to change it. In fact, taking away teacher tenure will just add to the vulnerability teachers feel, caught between students, administrators and parents, and help to ensure that everybody who can get out of teaching will get out of teaching. There are far too few material rewards as it is.
My next door neighbor is a secondary school teacher. At the moment she teaches in a special school. When, due to budget cuts they threatened to put her back in a regular classroom, I asked her what she was going to do. She looked past me for a few seconds, thinking. "Before I go back into a regular classroom, I'll get a job at WalMart." She replied. I know her well enough to know she will.