I never intended to be a public school teacher. Growing up, I’d gone to private school. When it came time to send my kids to school, I didn’t hesitate to send them to private school. Then, in my 30s, I started thinking about starting a new career. And as a longtime volunteer in my children’s private school, I thought teaching was a natural next step—but as a private school teacher. I had little interest in being a public school teacher. However, as a new teacher, the first job I was able to find was at a public school. My intent was to gain teaching experience there and then later teach at a private school. I’m thrilled to say I never made the move. As I worked in the public school system, I was inspired and impressed by how innovative and passionate my colleagues were. I’d never been around people who were so fired up about education. Their energy and relentless pursuit of teaching excellence were contagious. I knew I’d found where I belonged. After four years of teaching, I helped found a new public school in 2010: The San Fernando Institute for Applied Media (SFiAM). I’m still teaching, but in my new school I also help oversee the hiring of new teachers.
Teachers Need More Time
This experience has shown me that the current Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) permanent placement policy, more commonly known as tenure, needs to change. The
current policy allows a teacher to earn permanent status (commonly called tenure) after only two academic years. This translates to 18 months of actual time in the classroom. There are two main problems with the current tenure policy—both related to the extremely short tenure time frame. First, 18 months is not enough time for new teachers to receive or implement meaningful feedback that will help them scale the very steep new-teacher learning curve. Becoming an effective teacher is a long process and requires continuous mentoring from seasoned, effective educators.
Teachers will struggle in the first years of teaching. I know I did. But with guidance and support from my school, I was able to improve. This doesn’t happen quickly, however. Teachers require time to absorb feedback, apply new strategies in the classroom and see what works for their students. New teachers should be afforded the time they need to make adjustments to their teaching style so they can be effective over the long term. Second, two academic years is not enough time for a school’s administration to determine if a teacher belongs in the classroom. Teaching requires a high level of dedication and perseverance and schools need time to determine if teachers are a good fit for the profession. The current time frame is too short to determine if teachers have what it takes to grow professionally, learn from constructive feedback and positively impact students. School leadership needs more than 18 months in order to reasonably determine if a teacher has what it takes to be a great educator. For these reasons, the time frame for tenure in LAUSD should be longer. An extended tenure time frame, such as the one outlined in
Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s Teacher and Student Success Act, will provide teachers time to address deficiencies in their teaching and the school administration time to evaluate a teacher’s potential and effectiveness before granting permanent status. An educator throughout her career, Assemblymember Weber collaborated with teachers to draft legislation to provide new teachers three years to improve before the tenure decision, with up to five years for those who need more time to hone their craft. If lawmakers pass this bill, we will provide teachers with more time to grow their craft and administrators with more time to make decisions about who becomes permanently placed at the helm of our classrooms.
Photo of Erin Fitzgerald-Haddad and student.
Erin Fitzgerald-Haddad teaches seventh-grade math at the San Fernando Institute of Applied Media, a pilot school she co-founded in 2010. She has served in many leadership roles in her school and is an active member of Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles.