Tenure is not tenure in California


It’s fortunate that the Court of Appeals overturned that ridiculous Vergara lower-court decision last week about what right-wingers love to call our abusive “teacher tenure” practices in California.

But even some of our teachers don’t really know what it is that they’re protected by. For example, here’s what a local Glendale News Press columnist said about the topic last week:


Teachers and their unions collectively exhaled last week when a California appeals court overturned the Vergara ruling in 2014, which struck down teacher tenure in the state.

As a teacher who has struggled with the virtue of tenure, this was the right call to make at this time.

I, too, am frustrated that ineffective instructors remain on the job in classrooms, negatively impacting young people’s education.

Barring heinous criminal behavior, you can’t easily fire a teacher. The amount of energy and paperwork required to remove a bad one is monumental. However, if teachers had no job protection, it would cause harm to the entire profession.


This is simply not the case. It’s actually very easy to fire a teacher in California, as it is in most states. All a school employer has to do is just paper their personnel file with enough formal warnings and corrective notices. They can even lie about it all if they want to, and it only takes about a year to do.

That’s because K-12 school employees in California do not have tenure. We’ve said this before. What they have instead is just simple due process job protection, the same thing that the lowest McDonald’s employees have. All it means is that the school district has to first cite a statement of cause in order to get rid of someone they don’t want and pack together the evidence.

Then they have to offer a formal hearing opportunity to the employee, which can be as much of a kangaroo court as they want. It almost always is, and which is why they normally don’t even have to get this far before the chosen employee is long gone.

It’s actually worse for teachers than it is for those McDonald’s workers, because these procedural rules do not apply to temporary or probationary school employees. That’s because unless you’re a high-demand math or science teacher, it usually takes about five years to become that feared “tenured” teacher in California. During this time you’re either a long-term sub or a probationer, but mostly a long-term sub.

So until you become tenured you can get fired at any time your principal sees fit. If it’s a layoff situation for next year then they need to give you advance notice in mid-March. That’s it.

McDonald’s by contrast takes about six months to get off probation. Not four or five or more years.

The confusion here is that the word “tenure” is usually referenced to university professorships, who actually do get unsupervised, non-evaluated job tenure after a certain length of employment. So that’s what people think all teachers get.

But almost no one at the university level can even get to this achievement now, because few people ever get hired on to the university tenure track. Because there are so many Ph.Ds around, the only college jobs that anyone can get into nowadays are short-term temporary/contract positions. Unless you’re Noam Chomsky, or a prized football coach.

The same is true of many K-12 jobs as well. Tenure foes love to lie about how it “only takes two years” to become a tenured teacher, but they deliberately leave out the fact that in order to even get near this possibility most teachers have spent at least two or three years (or more) in flunky long-term sub jobs doing the exact same work.

California school districts are legally allowed to begin their people in this low a capacity, and they always do. So unless you’re an award-winning calculus or Latin teacher you will never get directly placed into a probationary “tenure track” position right away. No where.

In fact, quite often the teachers unions have to sue or file complaints against the school districts in order to get people off their long-term substitute or temporary status. Ask most older Burbank teachers about this. They’ll tell you how much and how often the BUSD dicked them around before they were legally forced to get placed into just probationary status.

We knew one Burbank teacher who worked for five years in the same grade-level teaching job at the same school before they were able to get on the probationary tenure track. And then it took her three more years to get tenured. For years she was just a long-term sub.

So whenever you hear about how lucky our teachers are to have job tenure, and how they can’t ever be fired, never; and that we must do something about this horribly abusive (to our kids) practice, or else, always keep in mind that the people you’re hearing this from are either abysmally uniformed or just plain lying.

Usually both.



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7 responses to “Tenure is not tenure in California

  1. chad

    Semi, I would agree with your overall interpretation but I would add that it takes a very long time for a “tenured” faculty person to lose her/his job. Thus, the offending person can do damage for a number of years before they are removed.

    • semichorus

      It really doesn’t take that long, and I’m not sure of too many teachers who are that bad.

      Teachers usually get hassled for political and personality reasons — like not kissing up to a nutty principal. I’ve seen that happen often, but I’ve never seen a truly bad teacher in Burbank, so I think this problem is overrated.

      I’ve seen teachers who some parents don’t like, but that’s not the same thing, although it may be to them.

  2. CornFused

    Never really understood the reasoning behind any type of tenure. At my place of employ, you screw up and you’re out the door the same day. Why should it take even a year with a formal hearing and corrective notices?

    The thing that bothered me was how many “leaves” some of the teaches took. Not all, but a few. Some of the substitute teaches were with the kids almost as long as the assigned teacher.

    Why so much protection?

    • semichorus

      It’s NOT tenure. Documenting misdeeds protects both the teachers AND the employer. If teachers could be fired at a moment’s notice for any reason at all they’d all get fired.

      Burbank no longer has paid sabbatical leaves either. They haven’t in over 35 YEARS. No one does any more.

      This country’s doomed. Really doomed. Yeah, let’s go after the teachers and LIE THROUGH OUR TEETH about them.

      • CornFused

        Never said it was a “paid” sabbatical. I just mentioned it was a “leave”. Not many people can just take time off and still have their job waiting for them.

        I’m a fan of teachers. I know of more than a few that take money out of their own pocket to buy things to enhance their student activities. I’d do the same.

        I don’t quite get the “they’d all get fired” comment. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

        Whether you agree or not, some should go without some huge process if they’re not good enough. They’re just people after all. Some people are good, some people aren’t. That percentage doesn’t change with a choice of profession.

        • semichorus

          It’s very easy to get rid of teachers for at least their first four or five years of employment. Extremely easy.

          After that the school district just needs to cite cause. That’s all. There is no tenure process for K-12 teachers that guarantees any kind of permanency. That’s a myth. And there’s barely any for university professors. Those days are long gone.

          Without “tenure” rights too, most school districts would be going out of their way to easily get rid of their older teachers. They do it anyway now!

          As to voluntary “opportunity” leaves, the school districts actually like this contract provision, because they can then assign a long-term sub to fill the same job for about 1/3 the money of the regular employee. Not many teachers get them any more either.

  3. chad

    Teachers often serve as lightening rods for all sorts of social ills. They often become the scapegoat for larger systemic problems that they’re not responsible for. Teachers have specific and exceptional certifications and training that not only encourage them to teach what is considered accepted educational models but they are also encouraged to be innovative. Sometimes, one person’s innovations is another’s satanic alchemy. Job security/protection was set up so that teachers would have enough intellectual freedom to explore, innovate, etc…and not be susceptible to momentary whim or flat-out retribution from administrators, staff, families, politically motivated groups, etc….If administrators are doing their jobs correctly, the bad teachers should have a file filled with complaints which will eventually weed them out. Unfortunately, it’s the few bad teachers with job security (the exceptions) who give the whole institution a bad name. I think the vast majority of problems in public education have nothing to do with job security for teachers.

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