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M. Shannon Hernandez Headshot

An Open Letter to Whoopi Goldberg and 'The View' Regarding Teacher Tenure

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I am writing you today to shed some light on teacher "tenure," better described as due process. Your comments over the past week regarding teacher tenure have created much controversy across this nation, but more than that, your words were perceived as an attack on teachers. I personally would like to think that you do value and support the teachers who are working so hard, day in and day out, to ensure that our nation's children are getting the education they need and deserve. However, your comments and misconceptions about what tenure really means are miseducating the American public, and I'd like to address them here.

Over the course of my teaching career (15 years), teacher tenure is what allowed me to protect children and their rights without fear of retaliation or termination. You may recall that Jennifer McCarthy asked, "But who is protecting the students?" You can rest assured that it is the teachers doing the majority of this work: I advocated for students to be moved from one class to another, when students confided in me that they were being bullied and tormented by another student. Due process gave me the protection I needed when it was time to speak up because the school system was out of money for textbooks, and I was expected to develop a curriculum and secure my own materials for teaching 60 students a day. Due process also has allowed me to advocate for students who were misplaced and were not getting their educational needs met in the current classroom setting. Because I could use my voice and was protected by due process, I was able to secure a smaller class size for these children, so that the students could get the one-on-one attention they deserved -- ensuring their reading and writing scores would improve and approach grade level standards.

I would also like to address the issue of teacher unions. For those teachers fortunate enough to work in a district or state with a union, we see much better working conditions such as smaller class sizes, safer working environments, and protection of our teaching and planning time. These conditions are highly important to the overall quality of education the students receive. Teachers can not do their jobs effectively if students are piled into classrooms and proper attention can't be given to their individual needs. We also can't do our jobs effectively if our planning periods are taken away from us, and we aren't able to plan and produce high-quality lessons on a daily basis. Teacher unions are ensuring that the working conditions of teachers are acceptable, so that we have the ability to be the best teacher we can be for our students.

The constant talk of "bad teachers" in mass media has become sickening and disheartening. It is once again an attack on the teaching profession, as well as an attack to target teacher unions. I will be the first to say that bad teachers don't belong in education -- our nation's children deserve better than that. However, I think the issue that must be addressed and answered is what constitutes a "bad" teacher? Is the brand new teacher who has been placed into a classroom, and who doesn't have access to a quality mentoring program, (which is happening more and more due to budget cuts), deemed a "bad" teacher? Is the teacher who is certified to teach art, but now also has to teach reading (so that he or she can be tied to student test scores for end-of-the-year teacher evaluation purposes) a "bad" teacher? What about the teacher who has a conflict with an administrator, because the teacher spoke up about misuse of school funds, and is now being silently bullied in the work place? Does this constitute a "bad" teacher?

I don't understand how we have found ourselves in "this place" in America where teachers are the enemies and are under constant attack. I don't understand why education has become more of an issue focused on economic status and politic party agendas -- rather than an issue of human and civil rights. I am saddened that news anchors, radio personalities, entertainers, and corporate reformers are given prime time slots on television to discuss the issues of public education -- when they most likely haven't even stepped foot into a public school classroom since they graduated, nor do they hold an advanced degree in education. It is enraging that the teaching profession continues to be attacked and demoralized by the media.

It's time for the teachers of this nation to be heard. It's time for us to join together with parents and ensure that we are treated as the professionals we are. It is time for teachers to stand in solidarity and let the nation know that we are the front line of defense for our students and that it is our due process rights which allow us to advocate so strongly and boldly. Above all, teachers deserve to be given a place at the table when it comes to public education reform.

I'd like to close with this final comment to the members of The View: For a balanced view, I am encouraging you to continue this dialogue by inviting educators onto your show to discuss both sides of this argument. It is important that the public has all the information to make informed decisions. I recently released a book, Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher, and I would be honored to hand-deliver each of you a copy and engage in a respectful, balanced conversation about what is truly going on behind the closed doors of public education and education reform.