On Tenure

June 21, 2014

July 1, 2014

The word tenure has come to mean different things to different people at various points in time in the history of civilization. A thousand years ago, tenure related to the law of property in feudal England and the manner in which a person held or owned property. Under feudalism, the king owned all of the land, and his vassals, as tenants, were entitled to hold only those portions of the land allotted by him and only under conditions he imposed. This feudal control by the overlord of transfers of property by tenants, was ended in 1290 by the Statute of Quia Emplores. In recent years, tenure has taken on a different meaning for many people, particularly those in education. Webster presently defines tenure as “the status of holding one’s position on a permanent basis, granted to teachers, civil servant personnel, etc., on the fulfillment of specified requirements.”

This article examines the role and the effect tenure has had on both educators and the education process. Unfortunately, for some teachers – and perhaps more rather than some for teachers at the East Williston School District – tenure has come to represent a job with no accountability.

I’m a chemical engineer and proud of it. I practiced my trade primarily in the classroom for 50 years. Educating youngsters for a career in engineering and training engineers/scientists in order to enhance their careers became my signature professional purpose. I did this in part because I believe engineering, more than any other profession, has contributed significantly to improving the quality of life for society. Along the way, I was tenured for the last 43 years.

My experiences as a tenured faculty member at my institution were interesting. Most of my colleagues were reasonably dedicated and rarely missed class, but I would describe only a few as hardworking. For what it’s worth, I missed one day (in the hospital) in 50 years. Overall, most of my guys did an acceptable job. But there were some, perhaps one out of every five, who milked the system for their own aggrandizement at the expense of the students. And nearly every one of those extortive individuals viewed themselves as God’s gift to education.

The situation at the EWSD is particularly disconcerting. The Board, PTO, and Superintendent have chosen not to allow opposing voices to be heard. FOIL requests are routinely effectively ignored (they once responded to one of my FOILS by providing me with reams of paper that were impossible to decipher). Some parents are too frightened to speak out, as with the teacher who retaliated against a 6-year old because her mother had the courage to speak the truth. It is for this reason that I always advise parents who have considered speaking out to remain anonymous. I have repeatedly made the above claims, and yet, no one – including the PTO hierarchy and the Superintendent – have ever dared to challenge my accusations. The FACT that the Superintendent misrepresented herself on the application for the position has also never been challenged.

What do we have at the EWSD? Based on my information, most of the EWSD teachers, and particularly those at Wheatley High School, approach their job as teachers in a manner quite different from what I would describe as a dedicated educator. The end result has been a precipitous drop in the school’s ranking, significant absenteeism, a failure of some (or is it many?) students to be admitted into the college/university of their choice, and poor student writing skills. Why is this occurring? I have placed the blame on numerous occasions on the incompetent past School Board President, Susan Bergtraum, and the former parasitic School Union President, David Israel (I still have a copy of the contract where Israel sold his membership short in order to gain a personal giveaway from the District). They set a process in motion that has resulted in the decline of quality education and teacher abuse in the EWSD.

Although much of the above will be viewed by the enemy as rhetoric, one needs to examine teachers’ salaries relative to others. As with some other professions, e.g., medicine, I believe it is disproportionate relative to the rest of the work force. Present-day salaries simply cannot be justified, particularly for those whose salaries are at $150,000/year. When one considers the salary, perks, health benefits, abbreviated workdays, extensive vacation periods, work ethics, etc., of the suburban teacher, it is hard not to conclude that these individuals have it made. Make no mistake about it, they have it made! I ought to know, because I was part of a similar system – only at another level.

And then there is job security. Today, most taxpayers no longer have the luxury of job security. In the old days, one might receive at any time a DCM – as it was called curing the depression era – Don’t Come Monday. Being tenured means not having to worry about losing your job. What is this worth? When I was growing up, it was worth enough that teachers who earned significantly less than the rest of the workforce were grateful for their job. I knew when I accepted a teaching position in 1960 for $6,000 a year, a salary substantially below what my colleagues were accepting in industry and business, I did so for two reasons: the desire to teach and the benefits mentioned above.

The bottom line is that tenure has unquestionably produced tenured teachers who are pampered, underworked, overpaid, lazy and indifferent to the needs of their students. All of them? NO! But many of them? YES! The tenure process has led to the aforementioned disproportionate wages and benefits relative to the rest of the workforce plus a lifetime of job security. As I’ve said on numerous occasions: we teachers have jobs, the rest work for a living.

Will tenure survive in its present form? I doubt it. Nor should it. The Ivy schools have all but eliminated tenure. I can say in no uncertain terms that tenure was appreciated and probably helped me from an academic and professional perspective. But the abuses that I witnessed and the present abuses at places like the EWSD need to be reduced, if not eliminated. There needs to be accountability if the educational process is to return to what we had in earlier times. Perhaps five-year tenure appointments with periodic evaluations might help.

For tenured teachers, it is time to give thanks. It is also time to reverse the trend and provide tax relief and start putting money into scholastic programs, not teachers’ salaries. For the tenured teachers, it is payback time.

Lou Theodore

APRIL 1: On the Barack Hussein Obama Update III
MAY 1: On the East Williston School District Budget Vote
JUNE 1: On the Interview Process
JULY 1: On Tenure

NEXT POSTINGS (tentative):
AUGUST 1: On a National Energy Policy
SEPTEMBER 1: On Purely Chaste, Pristine and Random Thoughts XXI
OCTOBER 1: On Barack Hussein Obama Update IV
NOVEMBER 1: On Paying Student-Athletes II
DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Basketball: 2014-15 Season
JANUARY 1: On Football Boxes
FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats


On the Interview Process

June 1, 2014

June 1, 2014

Many of the younger set in the Newsletter reading audience are now fast approaching crunch time regarding employment. In effect, it’s job time.
Over the years, my students have often asked for advice on employment and careers. My response to them centers on four subject areas:
1. What are you looking for?
2. What is the company looking for?
3. What about the interview?
4. What is needed to succeed?
Each of these questions are addressed below, with more extensive information provided for (3).
Regarding (1), only you can answer this question. The applicant/student should know exactly what he/she wants for the job. Should it be challenging? Do you just want a job? Is money the big issue? Is it security? And, what about graduate school and/or on-the-job training? Quite frankly, I find it difficult for anyone to really expect a youngster to know what they really want regarding a job or career.
We can spend a bit more time on (2). Here are five factors (there are obviously more) on what the company is looking for in terms of a (new) hire.
• Experience. It is helpful to have some previous experience since it measures one’s interests within a field; internships, or the equivalent, are a great way to gain job experience.
• Flexibility. Employees may need to work longer or extended hours, or start at the bottom and work their way up.
• Attitude. Entry-level jobs are not always exciting; initial work can include photocopying or filing. A great attitude reflects being willing to do the boring work without complaining.
• People Skills. One needs to have the ability to get along with and motivate co-workers and clients. Knowing how to COMMUNICATE with others is CRITICAL IN TODAY’S JOB MARKET.
• Handling Adversity. Grace under fire is a particularly prized commodity in the fast-paced, deadline-driven job market of the 21st century. Companies want to know that you have the ability to stay motivated when things are not going smoothly.
Here are a few tips on what might help you land the job (3)… perhaps of your dreams.
• It is important to prepare an impressive and an up-to-date resume that truly reflects you. Put your best foot forward. Don’t lie. Exaggerate? Be careful. Shield the truth? Perhaps, but definitely don’t lie.
• Prepare for the interview by researching the company. Check them out on their website or review an annual report. This will enable you to ask informed questions during the interview.
• Attire is important, so dress appropriately.
• The interview does not begin when you meet the interviewer; it begins earlier at the front door.
• Turn your cellphone off and avoid texting and phone conversations earlier while in a waiting room.
• If you are shown into a room to meet the interviewer, wait for the interviewer to tell you where to sit. Remain standing until the interviewer sits. Don’t’ plop your feet on the interviewer’s desk and start picking your nose or ear(s).
• Stand up to greet anyone you subsequently meet and shake hands confidently.
• During the interview, sit on the edge of the chair and lean forward slightly to let the interviewer know you are attentive.
• Thank the interviewer for his/her time and shake hands before leaving.
• During interview meals, generally follow the interviewer’s lead. Place your napkin in your lap and begin eating when the interviewer does.
• Start with the utensils on the outside and work your way in toward the plate.
• Order something familiar that is neat as opposed to messy.
• Taste the food before seasoning.
• Keep on the same eating pace with your interviewer.
• Do not mix food on your plate into a pile of hash.
• Do not order alcohol if your interviewer does not.
• Be extra courteous to the waiter and busboy.
As the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, so make the most of it. Prepare and rehearse for the interview. I also believe it is appropriate to either send the recruiter a thank you letter or follow with a call or e-mail the following day.

Well, what about success (4). Over the years, I had the privilege of maintaining close social and professional ties with many of my successful graduates in our profession. In thinking about what character traits likely contributed to their success, I found the following to be the most common.

• Communication Abilities. A leader must be an exceptional communicator orally and written.
• Appearance. Tall attractive men (and women) succeed more often than shorter folk (now I have an excuse). It’s a fact of life.
• Self-awareness. Leaders have an ability to recognize and understand their moods, emotions, and drives, as well as how they affect others; they are self-confident and able to acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses.
• Self-regulation. Leaders have an ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses or moods. In other words, they are able to think calmly before acting; this demands considerable tolerance of the views of others.
• Self-motivation. Leaders are self-motivated and their ultimate goal is achievement for achievement’s sake.
• Empathy. Leaders have an ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes and think from their viewpoint.
• Social Skills. Leaders have an ability to build rapport with virtually anyone and, in the process, have created a network of associates.
• Creativity. Leaders have an ability to innovate and “think outside the box.”
• Self-deprecation. Leaders are able to laugh at themselves, and are not bothered by what others might say about them.
• Action-oriented. Perhaps most important, leaders are doers and have an ability to make things happen, even when the odds are stacked against them.

Interestingly, you will note that technical ability (or the equivalent) and GPA (Grade Point Average) correlate weakly with successful leaders.

Good luck to those who will soon be approaching the interview process. A great thing about an interview is that it is the one time you can tell people how wonderful you are and they are actually willing to listen.

NEXT POSTINGS: (tentative)

JULY 1: On Tenure
AUGUST 1: On a National Energy Policy
SEPTEMBER 1: On Purely Chaste, Pristine and Random Thoughts XXI
OCTOBER 1: On Barack Hussein Obama Update IV
NOVEMBER 1: On Paying Student-Athletes II
DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Basketball: 2014-15 Season
JANUARY 1: On Football Boxes
FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats