Two teachers from Long Island, New York, wrote a letter to Whoopi Goldberg to explain to her that “tenure” means “due process.”

Alicia Connelly-Foster of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, NYSUT, AFT, NEA, and Viri Pettersen, President- Rockville Centre Teachers Association, NYSUT, AFT, NEA patiently explain that it takes a minimum of three years for a teacher to win tenure, during which time he or she is observed repeatedly by trained administrators.

They write:

“In New York state, the granting of due process is contingent on three years of observations. These observations are conducted by several different qualified administrators and occur quite frequently throughout each of these three years. Administrators hold degrees and certifications granted by the state, which, in turn, authorizes them to make these observations along with suggestions, criticisms and praise. Often, administrators from varying levels, including building principals, district-wide directors, or district office members, such as a superintendent of schools, observe the non-tenured teacher. New teachers are guided through mentoring by experienced educators, with supporting documentation showing that this mentoring occurred reported to our State Education department. The new teachers are required to participate in special professional development, geared to increasing their efficacy. At any point in this three-year process, administration or the Board of Education may elect to remove the teacher from the classroom, thus ending his/her employment with the district; no questions are asked. At the end of three years, the district has three options: to recommend the teacher for tenure (pending Board of Education approval), deny the teacher tenure, thus ending employment, or grant the teacher a fourth year of untenured status where the observation process, coupled with mentoring and professional development continues. At the conclusion of this fourth-year, the district has the option for retention as a tenured educator or dismissal.”

Why do teachers need due process? They write:

“Due process rights are important because they allow us to stand up for our students, through giving voice in supporting and protecting them. With due process, teachers can stand up for the student who we think may be unfairly suspended, especially when a parent is not available to defend the child. We can fight against rescinding support services of a special needs child because those services are too costly. Many times, parents may not be able attend their child’s CSE/IEP meeting. The only one in the room advocating for that child may well be the teacher.

“Without tenure, we could not stand up against the injustices we witness against children by districts that may temporarily have forgotten our reason for being here – our students and educational community. Without tenure, we could not stand up to our administrators/supervisors when something is wrong. Without tenure we could not stand up against harassment and workplace bullying. Without tenure, we could not stand up against racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry and age discrimination. These days, many veteran teachers are no longer being viewed based on their outstanding contributions to our educational communities; instead they are more frequently being categorized based on their position on the pay scale. Without tenure, age-discrimination will become a pandemic in schools.

“Without tenure, the wonderful academic success stories and teacher innovations promoted in our educational communities are likely to dwindle because teachers will be afraid to defend their high student expectations to administration. Without tenure, academic freedom and creativity in the classroom will disappear. Without tenure, people will be afraid to defend social justice or advise the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at school, for fear of reprisal from a homophobic supervisor. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to “tweet” and participate in political rallies (including those rallies where communities come together in the fight for better educational legislation and ending over-testing of students). Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to join a political party for fear of retaliation over their political ideologies. Without tenure, teachers will become afraid to be so-called “whistle-blowers” against a school district’s failure to comply with Special Education regulations. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid they may suffer for what their friends or family do. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to refuse to change a grade or falsify attendance records and/or legal documents, if directed by an administrator.

“Tenure does not equate to “a job for life.” Tenure equates to due process rights, which requires the district to do its due diligence in removing a teacher from the classroom and prevents that reason from being arbitrary and capricious. As far as the union goes, it is not the union’s responsibility to “defend bad teachers”; rather, it is to ensure that the district has done everything it needs to do on its part and that corruption/abuse has not taken place during a due process hearing. (Note: To clarify another misconception being promoted by some, New York’s teacher tenure law has been streamlined to address lengthy due process hearings and cost associated therewith.)”