Diane Ravitch condemned the decision by the school board in Joplin, Missouri, to suspend English teacher Randy Turner. His crime? He blogged about the problems facing the teaching profession. One specific blog post, “A Warning to Young People: Don’t be a Teacher,” was published in the Huffington Post, and went viral through various social media networks.
In his commentary, Turner (who is also an author and former reporter) described his joys as an English teacher. That said, he also noted that, “If I were 18 years old and deciding how I want to spend my adult years, the last thing I would want to become is a classroom teacher.” He went on to explain that teachers today are “more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.” Turner ranted about the handicaps placed onto teachers (by politicians and reformers) that make it difficult to earn a decent wage, to manage the behaviors in their classroom, and to instruct students in the ways they see professionally fit.
Moreover, he criticized the Missouri state government for entertaining a vote to eliminate teacher tenure, tie 33 percent of teacher pay to student performance, and create sections of teacher evaluation on student surveys. He also mirrored research after research that suggest that teachers become better at handling their charge as they gain years of experience. Nonetheless, he lamented the fact that his state also approved an increase in using career switchers into teaching and minimally qualified teachers from Teach For America.
The Huffington Post article received much positive review. As of the writing of this post, Turner’s commentary received 44,034 “likes” on Facebook, was tweeted 1,576 times, and e-mailed 3,160 times.
This was Randy Turner’s reward. On April 22, Turner was suspended. More specifically, he was placed on administrative leave.
HERE IS THE PROBLEM.
Legally, tenure is nothing more than a right to a hearing and due process. However, this protection means so much more than that. It is the only protection a teacher has to the freedom of expression. As Ravitch noted, “Tenure is not a job for life. Tenure protects freedom of speech. Tenure protects academic freedom.”
Unfortunately, Turner was not tenured. Therefore, he did not have legal protection. The TFP has noted many times that the right to exercise the First Amendment has been severely curtailed for public employees. While is still exists for a teacher acting as a citizen, (Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)), his or her rights have been greatly restrained since Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006). A teacher may not speak against his or her employers (school, district, or state), even to blow the whistle on unethical work and malpractice. Indeed, Readers may be interested to note that standard “Whistle Blower” laws do not apply to public employees. Although many states have enacted some protection for state-level employees, teachers mostly lack significant protection to speak their mind, even in defense of their profession, their schools, their students, or their communities. For many, a teacher’s only form of protection is tenure.
After helping his community cope with the deadly tornadoes that hit Joplin, MO, a few years ago, Randy Turner’s right to free expression and press are now curtailed by the very school system that he aided. Not only that, he faces retribution without any clear legal protection. The Constitution, standard “whistle blower” laws, and tenure, have all been stripped away.
This is why teachers must take a stand for their profession.