What is Teacher Tenure?

D. Jeffress

Teacher tenure is effectively a permanent job contract for a college professor or, in some cases, a primary or secondary school teacher. Tenure is granted to individuals who have proven their teaching skills, conducted meaningful research, published papers, and helped their educational facilities by participating in committees or creating policies. In most cases, a teacher must work between two and seven years before becoming eligible to receive tenure. A professional with teacher tenure cannot lose his or her job without just cause, such as obvious incompetence or severe misconduct. Tenured teachers are granted the freedom to pursue research and interests of any sort, even if they are unpopular or not in line with the opinions of authorities.

Colleges may grant tenure to professors who have worked between 7 and 10 years.
Colleges may grant tenure to professors who have worked between 7 and 10 years.

At most universities and colleges, a teacher must demonstrate competence and achieve results both in and outside of the classroom for at least six years. He or she needs to excel as an instructor, teaching appropriate material and giving students every opportunity to succeed. In addition, a hopeful professor is usually required to write papers and conduct research in his or her specialty. A biology instructor seeking teacher tenure, for example, may be expected to spend significant amounts of time conducting experiments and independent research in the school's laboratories, publish scientific papers regarding important findings, and become an active participant in local and global scientific organizations.

Tenure is granted to teachers who have proven their teaching skills.
Tenure is granted to teachers who have proven their teaching skills.

In addition to publishing papers and teaching courses, an individual seeking teacher tenure at a university usually participates in academic committees. An instructor might focus on departmental issues, such as designing new courses and graduation standards, obtaining books and supplies, and organizing curricula. He or she may also work with a board of directors to make decisions regarding university policies and procedures, financial matters, or other pertinent topics. Instructors who have done the most for their schools and their students are generally awarded tenured positions when they are available.

In primary and secondary schools that support teacher tenure programs, successful instructors may be granted tenure in as little as two or three years. Non-college teachers in public institutions have the opportunity to gain tenure after they complete a probationary period, in which their performance is analyzed by administrators and school superintendents. New teachers who can prove their abilities during the probationary period can be granted tenure and enjoy accompanying job security.

Once teacher tenure has been granted, the instructor usually signs a contract with school authorities stating that he or she cannot lose her job without just cause. He or she can conduct research, write papers, and give lectures on topics and opinions of any nature. Even if authorities, students, professors, or the general public disagree with their actions, tenured teachers are in no jeopardy of being terminated. A professor can still lose his or her job, however, if he or she fails to provide students with an adequate education or blatantly breaks university, local, or federal laws. Tenured teachers who maintain their personal and academic integrity usually enjoy long, respected, rewarding careers in their field of expertise.

Tenure comes with the benefit of having a bigger say about what subjects a professor will teach.
Tenure comes with the benefit of having a bigger say about what subjects a professor will teach.

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Discussion Comments


For k12 teachers tenure is *not* a permanent job. It guarantees due process when a teacher is at risk for losing their job!


can a teacher be fired for telling a student to go home and kill himself? Is there anything a parent can do about it? They were told there was nothing they could do, or anything the administrator was going to do.


Crispety-Elementary school teachers can be given bonuses on certain benchmarks in reading and math.

For example, if the class is ahead of grade level even if it is just a few months, then the teacher should receive a bonus. A teacher should be given an evaluation twice a year in order to determine progress.

If the teacher fails both evaluations then they should not be offered another contract. While I want all teachers to succeed, not everyone in the profession is motivated and this should be addressed.


Comfyshoes-I agree that when a teacher receives her teaching certificate she should be incentivized to perform better by offering her or he the opportunity to receive an incentive bonus based on the classes academic standing.

Special education teachers should always receive higher pay because their jobs are more demanding. They should also receive incentive bonuses for progress that can be measured by different testing tools.

The problem is that we are rewarding mediocrity and that is exactly what we are getting. I think that children deserve better. We should eliminate teacher tenure for the public teacher.


BrickBack-I think that teachers pay should be based on merit and achievement and not a payment schedule or steps.

I feel that not everyone exerts the same effort in performing a job, so why should we treat the lazy teachers the same as the motivated ones. Teacher salaries should be based on performance with the high performing teachers and schools receiving meaningful bonuses for a job well done.

Rewarding success actually motivates those that have an inclination to succeed. Those that do not succeed in such a model probably were never going to succeed and maybe should leave the profession.

Teaching is hard work and we need to reward those teachers that go above and beyond for our children, not the ones that are looking to collect their checks and doing the minimum.


Bhutan-I totally agree. In a private school if your class is not performing you are fired. This is the same with any job that you take.

You always have measurable standards that you have to meet in order to maintain your job; I don’t understand why teachers should be any different.

I realize that some communities and children may have a series of challenges that may make the job harder, but that should not excuse the teacher for receiving poor results.

Until we stop accepting failure as a standard our schools will not improve and our academic standing compared to other industrialized nations in the world will continue to flounder.

We were recently ranked 25th in math in the world, which is just sad.


Tenure for teachers is a debate that many states are facing.

With many failing school districts around the country, many state and local governments are questioning the effectiveness of teacher tenure and thus have formed many teacher tenure debates.

A school system in the northeast actually fired all of the high school teachers because the school consistently offered poor educational results in academic testing.

There was a measure in Florida to hold teachers accountable for the academic measures of their students and even reward those exceptional students, but the teacher’s unions were against these accountable measures and the governor vetoed the bill.

I think the Florida measure was on the right track, and until we have full accountability the public education system will never improve.

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