Veteran Educators Bear Brunt of Threats Against Seniority, Tenure

ChatanoogaschoolEducators have long relied on tenure and seniority to guard against arbitrary dismissals and other adverse employment actions. But as teachers at every stage of their careers are forced to defend their job rights, older teachers may increasingly be caught in the crossfire.

Significantly, seniority and tenure involve the factor of age. Seniority is, of course, a function of age; the older teacher has accumulated years of job experience. Similarly, tenure is awarded after years of gaining on-the-job experience. Thus the attack on seniority and tenure is often a disguised effort to discriminate against veteran teachers. It is based on the false stereotype that older teachers, as a class, have lost their edge and younger teachers, by virtue of their age, are better for the job.

Older educators are particularly vulnerable in California, where a high-stakes battle over job security for some 300,000 K-12 teachers is now taking place. In Vergara v. California, nine public school students hand-picked by the school advocacy group Students Matter allege that the tenure and seniority rules, including a last-in-first out policy, undermine their right to a good education.

Fortunately, a number of states besides California are resisting pressure from Students Matter and other like-minded groups that blame teachers when students perform poorly. Last year, for instance, the Children’s Education Council of Missouri failed to convince Missouri lawmakers to end tenure. In 2012, Virginia’s Republican-led Senate derailed a tenure reform bill despite strong support from then-governor Robert F. McDonnell.

But many states including North Carolina and Florida have already eliminated, watered down or begun to phase-out tenure altogether. And in at least two states — Louisiana and Utah —administrators are forbidden to consider seniority when deciding which teachers to let go.

A recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case illustrates the vulnerability of teachers who don’t have tenure. Both the appeals and lower courts agreed that the school board that denied second-grade teacher Vanessa Joyner career status was unfairly influenced by a member who held a grudge against Joyner. because she had reported his wife to the principal where they both worked.

New laws weakening tenure and seniority undermine the ability of NEA and its affiliates to rely on collective bargaining to prevent age discrimination and redress ageism. Fortunately, we do have other tools in our legal arsenal. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and comparable state laws can be used to show that efforts to wear down tenure and seniority rights are aimed squarely at older teachers. In addition, at the very least, these laws can be used to show that anti-tenure and anti-seniority moves have a disproportionate impact on older teachers. In addition to helping defending against bogus claims like those being alleged in Vergara, these laws provide for relief for teachers who have been the victims of discriminatory discharges or other adverse actions.

At the end of the day, however, the best defense is a good offense. And that’s where education comes in. Teachers and other educators must work harder to educate parents and students about the important role tenure and seniority play in recruiting and retaining quality teachers. And they must convince lawmakers that when it comes to addressing today’s challenges in the classroom, there is no substitute for experience.

  • greg milan

    As a veteran teacher with 28 years, I continue to learn and get new ideas from young teachers. I have also been able to stear young teachers away from dangerous decisions. There has to be a mix of experienced teachers and novice teachers to keep education productive.

  • Jennifer

    Whatever the pretext given, I’m sure that this is another policy/ preference that is money-driven. Older teachers cost more money.

  • Dee

    In addition to the monetary issue Jennifer mentioned, veteran teachers also are more likely to speak truth to power. Giving a voice to what’s best for students vs. what is advantageous/cost effective for a district is not always popular. Additionally, the idea that younger people are “just lucky to have a job” will often stop them from speaking up. Veteran teachers in Wisconsin who have been used to speaking out are now paying the price for advocating for students. They are viewed as expensive troublemakers.

  • Tim Mitchell

    NO one in there right mind would believe that the attacks on teachers’ tenure and the ability to use collective bargaining are not politically motivated. It does not take a genius to see why veteran teachers will be the first ones to be let go. Vouchers do not help public education at all. Private schools take only the kids without problems and have no accountability for those that do not succeed. I have seen kids apply to private schools, especially parochial schools, that were told they were not a “good fit.” But all the above average students and especially the athletes were openly welcomed. And if any voucher student does not improve the private schools should be required to return the public dollars that they get for taking the kids in the first place. That idea was not welcomed by the private schools or the politicians that push for the voucher laws. Just a couple of suggestions for the politicians to consider. Teacher shortages are coming quickly because of the conditions you have forced on the profession. Treat teachers as professionals and not just laborers. Listen to them. They are in the classrooms and politicians are not. Maybe you should let teachers make political decisions for you, Mr. Politician.

  • John Paxton

    The politics of this argument, while cloaked in arguments of non-currency, falling behind in technology, or failing to keep up with one’s discipline, disguise the dollar cost of more experienced teachers. New teachers are cheap, inexperienced, and, because of this inexperience, tend to follow administrator’s orders without question. As any experienced teacher knows, today the dollar bill rules many a school board and administrative decision.

  • Eileen Douglas

    I, too, believe that there are several things going on behind this tenure and seniority issue. Newer teachers do cost less and speak out less. They have no knowledge of the history of how teachers used to have more independence in their classrooms. Now it is a matter of compliance, not creativity or common sense. Here in NC, they hae also removed the salary schedule based on educational status. A friend of mine had already started his masters degree courses, only to find out they wouldn’t do any good for him on the salary scale. Basically, I think what school districts want now are low-paid, nondemanding, inexperienced, afraid-to-speak out robots as teachers. I’m glad I had twenty years of teaching before it got to this point. Politicians have no business whatsoever running schools, setting standards, and/or passing educational legislation. Would you want your legislators making the rules and setting the standards for your doctor or dentist? I think not.

  • Tina

    Try being a 42 year old trying to get your first teaching job after going back to school. I have been told I can not relate to younger students even though I have been employed as an aide in the lower elementary level. It is still age discrimination no matter how you look at it.

  • Brad Benge

    It saddens me to see and hear of good teachers who had dedicated their lives to the young people of our country being thrown away and devalued as human beings. Other cultures value those with experience. The choice to retire should be a time of gladness. In some Districts the senior teachers are targets.

  • Sue

    Do not despair, Tina. Years ago teachers who took a few years off while having children had to fight to get back in the classroom because “raising children has nothing to do with teaching children.” I wasn’t the only one who heard comments like that. Later, when I went back to school with the plan to teach in a new field, I knew I was going to be knocking on the door at an age where my peers had long since retired. While it’s true that some principals were not encouraging, I was fortunate to find one who values life experience as much as academic preparation. I am not the only 60-something on our faculty mixed in with teachers who are younger than my own children. There are districts and administrators out there who can appreciate educators, regardless of age. For those who are hesitant, I found that it was important that they acknowledge “the elephant in the room.” Is 42, 52, 62, etc. the usual age when someone decides to take on the challenges of classroom teaching? Certainly not. If we can admit it and follow up with what we have to offer that a younger candidate cannot, then the ball moves to the other court. We’re not afraid. What does the interviewer fear? The best teachers are not always the lifers, nor are the lifers always without current knowledge and skills. The best teachers are the ones who want to be a positive influence in the lives of young people and who bring their enthusiasm, dedication, and perseverance along with however much experience they may have and regardless of whether that experience has always been as a classroom teacher. Those are the qualities that keep targets off the backs of anyone, regardless of age.

  • Tara

    To add to Eileen’s comments, not only has NC eliminated tenure and revised the pay scale so that they will no longer pay teachers more who have a master’s degree, they have the audacity to insult us veteran teachers even further by only offering pay raises to those with less than ten years of experience. The ones who will benefit most are brand new teachers, or those that have not even been hired. My thoughts? Our state also eliminated the NC Teaching Fellows program ( in favor of Teach for America. So who will be getting these higher salaries? The first round of recruits from Teach for America.

    Sad to say, this is only the latest injustice imposed on NC teachers since July 2013.

  • Celine

    I turned 60 in November, am told I look 40, and I have 38 years of experience. I find that young parents are starting to request the younger teachers in our building for their kids. Apparently they are “more fun”…sigh. My principal is 20 years my junior and he taught for 3 years before becoming an administrator. He really tries, but basically he does not relate to the three of us “oldies” and struggles to find suggestions or advice when we run up against those kids who equate youth with a more enjoyable experience. So far, our district has not hired any TFA folks..if they do, I can see us being edged out for a cheaper alternative.

  • Cindy Stiles

    I just found out contract not renewed. Age 63. Called local AEA president. She contacted council in home state. Attorney decided not important enough. What have I been doing all these years paying dues to an association to intercede on my behalf. Advice was saddle up and get out of Dodge. Is there any person at national level to take a second look. I’m a nine years in the district and have taught for 16. ????

  • Karen Zyczynski

    The thing I find interesting about all of this is the fact that in most professions experience is highly valued. Not many of us would want to hire a lawyer fresh out of college to defend us in court or entrust our lives to a surgeon who lacked experience. It has been my experience that parents often prefer to have their child assigned to a classroom with a teacher who is a known quantity. It is our legislators who seem to have an aversion to supporting experience in the classroom. Or, maybe it is just that they don’t want to pay them a living salary – cheaper is not always better. Didn’t any of them have a great experienced educator during their school years?

  • Wolfgang

    I became a teacher after years of working the private sector in management. There are a couple things seriously wrong in education:
    1- A ridiculous idea that years of experience means something in and of itself. Seniority. I already have seen several teachers that make no real effort, never change, and then squeak about their seniority and connected pay scale. It’s disgusting. Just because you have been at a job for 20 years, does not equal a good teacher. Period
    2- Who can intelligently say that it’s good to make the least senior teacher leave a site just because they started three years ago?
    3- Connect years on the job to salary? Lmao… How about learning how to politic and relate well with your superiors? How about being judged on your job? Yes, you have to rely on honesty and if you cause problems you will be gone but. BRING IT ON!

    I’m tired of senior teachers that show up late everyday, won’t change and teach bad everyday making 30k more than me. I’m tired of getting the bad students because these senior teachers can’t handle them.

    I say LET THEM ELIMINATE SENIORITY! I can teach and prove my worth! Can you?

  • Wolfgang

    One more thing…
    These unions are very weak compared to others in the private sector. The teachers never stand up or are willing to strike if needed. So, now all the unions do is ask you every year to decide which area has priority in bargaining. Then they just negotiate by giving those low priority things away. Have you really seen more income? More benefits? No… Btw, reducing medical is the sane thing as a serious paycut that we will never get back.

  • John H Borja

    There are so many issues associated with age. But, in teaching, age really doesn’t matter. If you’ve been teaching for a long while at a certain grade level or proximate grade level, you know a lot about the kids. Kids, for all the new technologies, don’t change a whole lot. Children seem to be a bit more challenging over the last 20 years, but an experienced teacher can be flexible within the new challenges. The most challenging aspect is learning, utilizing, and mastering the new technologies for the classroom. But, even as these new technologies come on line opportunities never before available, abound. So many of the new/young teachers look lost. Even with all the training they get now, they still look, as probably I did, when I started. Starting new as a teacher is very much like starting your own business…lots of mistakes and wasted time and money. And beginning does take time, a lot of time. Tenure is about protecting the time a professional needs to learn an art. And, in the final analysis, if you aren’t artistic and creative as a teacher, well, you will have a tough time.

  • Mary

    The attacks on older teachers regarding tenure and seniority doesn’t start after they’ve been employed for many years; it starts before they are even given a contract. I became a credentialed teacher at the age of 42 and have been denied a permanent position every year for the past 8 years. I receive excellent evaluations from my principals, who state they would love to hire me permanently if they could, but the district will only allow them to offer me a temp position. I have worked for many years as a 50/50 job share, full-time teacher, reading teacher, and long-term sub. Every position has been temporary and after all this time, I have no seniority of any kind. Every year I must reapply and interview for a new teaching position – whatever is left at the end of the year. I never know if I’ll be employed or have health insurance. I have knowledge that 20-somethings fresh out of college are offered permanent contracts by this district. I have been “bumped” several times by them. I spoke to our local teachers’ “union” about job discrimination of older teachers, but as a non-tenured teacher, they aren’t of any help to me. Why are school districts allowed to offer only temporary positions to teachers year after year after year? It’s wrong and it needs to change.

  • Julie

    I love teaching and I love learning. However, after 32 years as a middle school teacher, I called it quits last year. Politics in our state were particularly brutal to education last year, and my love of teaching and kids just didn’t offset the negativity and attacks from all fronts (political, media, including social media, and elsewhere) anymore.

  • Merle Young

    We should all agree that there are good older teachers and some older teachers who do not care about education, teaching, or the future of our generation. Some older teachers have a passion and a positive desire to educate and share their wealth of experience and knowledge with the youth of the “X” generation. There has been a downfall in the quality of education because of politicians who have no idea what goes on in a large classroom where students of all races and gender could care less about “No Child Left Behind”, state mandated assessments and district educational objectives. I wish anyone who thinks teaching is simple as “reading, writing, & arithmetic” would try to substitute any class for a least two weeks at any inner city school and then see what it is like in the trenches. I agree both old and young teachers to be together more and share their success with what works for the students. Isn’t all about the student? Until teachers are respected as a valuable asset to become a lifelong learner or successful citizen, age will have nothing to do the growth of education system.

  • geo

    Sorry that you forgot to highlight the great job that “the nerd” Snyder has done in Michigan to gut tenure and unions in that state. He also spearheaded a drive to financially rape the currently and future retirees by starting a pension tax on them and then giving 1.8 BILLION $$ break to big business in the state.
    Did all this under the guise of “state is broke”, but now he has a 900 Million $ surplus all on the back of retired teachers and others. Watch out, he has plans to maybe become President if enough sucker will vote for him.

  • Jim

    While teaching for 35 years, I always updated, and added new lessons every year. It wasn’t like the first year, where everything was new, but there was new material each year. I had former students graduate from prestigious universities, so I believe I had success. But thanks to Scott Walker vaporizing our contracts, this is what happened: Our school board announced I was being cut to part time. And they also offered a buy out, three years of health insurance for teachers with a given amount of time in. At the same board meeting where I accepted their offer, the Board announced they would post the job, AT FULL TIME. They later hired a first year teacher. Do you think they saved some money? I am sure! The only thing I found sadder was the fact that WEAC would not file an age discrimination suit. Can you say “appeasement”?

  • Joyful

    Wolfgang, I wonder how you’ll feel in 15, 20 years-very differently I can assure you, unless you go into administration where you’ll be able to maintain a job and a salary. Everyone has moments when they say something and later realize how they spoke too soon. Good luck to you.

  • Michael Dominguez

    It’s even worse than you think in L.A. Our superintendent Mr. John Deasy has gone on a witch-hunt and has fired senior teachers at an alarming rate based upon false charges of incompetence and child abuse. He lies about us in front of the media and the school board yet nothing he says is ever challenged. He has even said that we are “prostitutes and egregious child abusers.” He enlists principals to target and abuse older teachers and thousands have been forced out. The most disgusting part of this is that our union UNITED TEACHERS LOS ANGELES does nothing to defend us leaving us to spend up to $70,000 to defend our jobs in court. Most just resign and retire instead of exposing themselves to financial ruin. UTLA is both NEA and AFT affiliated and we don’t get any attention from them either.

  • J. Stugard

    An old and wise teacher once told me, many years ago, that teaching is one of the only professions that the more experience you have, the less likely it is people will listen to you. And so I will leave the profession I started in the 1970’s and wish you all “good Luck”. You will need it.

  • Jane

    I am a victim of age discrimination in NC. I was given a choice of being “fired” or retiring. I entered teaching after a successful career in the business world. My evaluations had all, for twelve years, been brilliant. I was up on technology and in tune completely with Common Core. I had tenure, for what that was worth! I was suddenly told that parents had called continuously to complain about my classroom management; but I was never told that “fact” until the meeting with my principal that led to my “choice”. When I asked him who had called and why he hadn’t told me, he said he couldn’t remember their names! Everything that the other teachers have said about NC is too, too true. The atmosphere now is horrible. NC is 46th on the payscale nationally. A young man just out of college replaced me. I would not advise any young person to choose a teaching career today…at least not in NC.

  • Marty

    It’s this “youth culture” that has overtaken and ruined us. You see it everywhere. Gustavo Dudamel was given the reins of the LA Philharmonic at age 27 – he wasn’t ready. People think that since Bill Gates, Steve Jobs started major hi tech firms in their 20’s that all 20-year-olds are supersmart = they’re not. So with teachers – the younger ones MUST be smarted than us old geezers. I retired after 32 years although I had another good 10 in me. I was considered a “dinosaur”. Yet, I was the tech go-to person when calculators, computers or anything else was involved. I could run circles around the younger teachers. My math skills were significantly better than the younger generation. Good luck with education – just like the US Government, we bought in to “hiring” a young, unprepared president and look how that’s turned out – a disaster.

  • Kurt

    Many of the arguments would be more credible if they did not contain spelling errors

  • Zazie

    If Wolfgang is an English/language arts teacher, s/he wouldn’t be working for long if aptitude were the sole basis for remaining employed.

  • Richard Peterson

    At 60 I have born the brunt of age discrimination all year long from our new principal. He has constantly addressed grey hair and made comments about age in front of students, parents, and staff in relation to some of us who are getting up there. I was just informed that I will not be coming back next year. I teach electives, so I knew the numbers game was against me. Teaching in Idaho, the union has no power at all, means fired at will (although I was “technically” offered a 1/7th position). There is clearly a movement to get rid of older (more expensive teachers).

  • Geraldo

    It is a National disgrace that administrators in our nation’s school districts surreptitiously find ways to circumvent the anti-age discrimination laws of the United States of America. They have learned to “cook the books” regarding older, more experienced teachers and instructors in favor of younger, inexperienced recent educational curriculum major graduates.

    I was evaluated for many years with “satisfactory” performances, until I reached age 63 and a half. After that, I was re-assigned to teach in a subject area that I had never taught before as a certified teacher, and was not Highly Qualified to teach, even though I had interviewed for vacancies in my subject area at other high schools within the district. Of the interviews I completed with principals at the other high schools, not one had contacted me with the result of my interview and I was not notified of my new assignment by the district until a few weeks before school was to resume for the fall semester. These circumstances further reinforced my belief that my time with the school district was being covertly manipulated beyond my control on a playing field no longer level. My evaluations all of a sudden smarted of “Needs Improvement” and I was offered a mentoring coach by the district, but suddenly none were available in that particular discipline. When contacting the local union affiliate, I was counseled to resign and, hopefully find another job in another district. Go figure? Is this what our predecessors who were members of teacher unions fought for all those years? After being re-assigned for yet another school year, in yet another subject area I was not current in (my previous coursework was during undergraduate studies some 26 years prior). Finally, I was “non-retained” for, essentially, incompetency.

    When I filed for age discrimination with the EEOC, their investigation found nothing that could be charged against my former employer. (????)

  • James Goran

    Shame on you for using the word “tenure”. It’s due process, and the word choice gives the wrong idea to current educational “reformers”.

  • Aguirre

    All these comments are true. Older teachers are being the targets for age discrimination. We all need to bring it to the media’s attention, since our union is not helping. We need the public’s help to get rid of incompetent principles, and administrators. It is all political. These people have all their relatives in positions they are not qualified for. We need to do something. The new teachers will in time be in a similar situation if it is allowed to continue.

  • Debra

    I work in Maryland and if feels as though the parents set the grade, behavior, and curriculum standards. I am teaching 25 years and feel oppressed by administration to meet parent demands. No other profession that must have a Master’s degree and beyond are expected to work over-time for free. I am tired of always feeling as if I am on trial. Yes, I agree that younger teachers tolerate what we older folks fought so arduously to get rid of. It is all frustrating at the very least.

  • Ernie

    I taught in public school in Connecticut for 34.5 years. I retired in 1999, and have been teaching ever since for FREE. I retired because of the political mess that was just beginning, and is still on going. Two years after retirement, I was hired as a consultant (and paid) to help that system get out of the mess that was created. I was also consultant for elementary science teachers for intro chemistry. Those teachers were really trying.
    So physically I feel that I am well enough to still be teaching.
    Hi Debra, I taught in Milford Mill in 1963.
    I still cut fire wood, have a garden, (tomatoes have sprouted), and paint apartments, do all the yard work, cook meals, run two websites, and more. Maybe I am not so old at heart.

  • Cathy Downes

    Older teachers also make more money, and I can’t help but think that part of the push to get older teachers out of the system may have something to do with budgetary matters.

  • Val

    Age is a smaller part of the bigger problem here. In our state,the day after tenure and right of rehire (to position reopened within 2 yr. pd.) was taken away, the administration filled the void and lorded their new found power over the teachers. Their demands grew exponentially almost overnight. I have no doubt that our state representatives operated under the dominating idea that tenure means poor teachers are kept on. What they, and the public at large, don’t realize is that by taking away these rights an unhealthy balance of power was created. Even though administrators may be doing what they think is best, their perspective is no longer balanced with teacher input. In losing these rights, teachers became afraid to say anything. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be humorous. When the administrators make mistakes, they just brush it off as if it were no big deal; while, teachers are being brow beaten and micromanaged.

  • Why is it that the politicians who insist that experience and seniority have no value in the classroom run campaigns that stress their experience and incumbency. Would these politicians not want their doctor or dentist or jet plane mechanic to have the latest degrees/certification? Would they want the most inexperienced surgeon to operate on them?

    Americans will get exactly the service for which they pay. And North Carolina, when they schools begin to deteriorate, say goodbye to the Research Triangle.

  • Wendy

    Many countries are hiring qualified teachers right now. They are paying quite well with housing, round trip airfare and medical insurance included. Older teachers are being paid more because of the experience they bring while the younger teachers are getting the experience needed. Experience the world. Educate oneself with authentic experiences, create a blog and share with others. Sometimes we give our power away to people when all we need to do is expand our thinking. Find out what your skills are and market them. Find other companies that need the skills of a teacher. If you want to stay in the classroom, substitute, volunteer, start a home school, private school or charter school. So many times in the past we professed that money was not a motivator for teaching and we accepted what we were given-or not! Then we began to complain. Now that we are older, a financial reality has set in. We are uncomfortable with the results and how things are going. It is up to us to transform ourselves into the wise and respected educational gurus that we are.

  • Kurt, you did not use a punctuation mark at the end of your sentence that was critical of spelling errors.

  • I am a teacher of 29 years, and I am doing more now than when I first started. I am passionate about engaging my students. I integrate technology, participate in Twitter chats, write an Education blog (“Diary of a Public School Teacher”), and maintain a Facebook page. I still love teaching, and continue to give my kids, and my fellow teachers my best!

  • An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who has
    been doing a little homework on this. And he actually bought
    me lunch simply because I stumbled upon it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this issue here on your website.