Last Hired, First Fired

“Last hired, first fired,” a policy established by a North Carolina statue, dictates that teachers most recently hired will be the first to go when teacher layoffs come around. 

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Brittany Daniels, the most recently hired in the Spanish department, is adored by her students, but according to policy, she will be the first to go if budget cuts come around again.

“She’s very nice, she helps out a lot,” said Philip Higgins, freshman. “She’s my favorite [teacher].”

Caroline Cleary, senior, agrees. “She’s awesome!”

Another thing Cleary and Higgins agree on is Daniels’ effectiveness.

“She just makes you get it more; she has a better way of teaching. She keeps you involved,” explained Higgins.

Despite the high acclamation, if push came to shove and another round of budget cuts were necessary in the Spanish department, then Daniels would have to leave.

“I would be upset. I really would… they should [fire] the old people,” said Cleary.

Wouldn’t that be ideal? To cut the ineffective teachers, whose salaries increase the longer they stay despite their performance level, in order to keep the new ones with more talent, fresh ideas, and a better ability to connect with the students? Thanks to a little thing called ‘teacher tenure,’ this is not possible.

Teacher tenure is a ‘safety zone’ for teachers who have completed a four-year process, including being mentored by veteran teachers and passing observation sessions. At Leesville, teachers can attain tenure in their fourth year. In the years leading up to this they have been observed by a fellow teacher as well as the principal several times.

There is a new evaluation tool that guides the principal as he observes the teacher the fourth year, showing him what to look for and what is required. In addition to the evaluation list, Mr. Lyons said he looks for teacher-student engagement and a variety of activities in the class – not only lectures and not only group work.

After tenure is gained, teachers have their rights protected by the union and cannot be fired unless a crime is committed.

Vikki Weber, Spanish teacher, was observed for her tenure the week before Spring break. She said the ‘exam’ is mostly just observation. “[Mr. Lyons is just] looking for competency in your area, adherence to school rules, teaching methodology.”

How tenure is acquired differs from school to school. Weber said that at other schools she taught, tenure was gained at three years, some at ten, and some didn’t give it at all.

Even though she had been observed by administration on several occasions in her career, Weber said she still feels anxious before being reviewed. “I’m always nervous because I’m conscientious. I want to do my best.” On the other hand, she is confident of a good outcome. “I haven’t lost a job yet!”

Teia Robinson, Subject CTE teacher, is in her third year of teaching. Lyons has observed her three times, and she will get her tenure next year.

“I am so ready to get my tenure,” said Robinson. “It’s a big milestone.”

NC State University has requested that she host a student teacher during her fifth year of teaching, something she can do only when she has tenure. This is another benefit of tenure; new teachers cannot have practice in the classroom without others qualified to train and help them.

Eric Broer, English teacher, is Robinson’s mentor for her first four years. She said he checks in on her during class, helps her with paper work, and “a lot of the background stuff that students don’t get to see.”

According to NPR, “The main function of teacher tenure is to protect good teachers from unfair dismissal.” However, “critics of the policy say the policy also protects incompetent and low performing educators, and makes it nearly impossible to fire them.”

“[G]etting rid of teachers with tenure can involve years of review and bureaucratic hurdles, and can cost tens of thousands of dollars per teacher,” according to an article on

The NY Post wrote, “Quality veteran teachers are essential to any school. They serve as mentors and as models of good teaching in many classrooms. But experience doesn’t always equal quality: A 2006 study by The Hamilton Project shows that, after year three there is almost no correlation between time in the classroom and teacher effectiveness.”

Once a teacher has tenure, they cannot be dismissed based on poor performance. Nothing short of a crime will cause a teacher to be let go.

Galen Tim, senior, has studied under both brilliant and ineffective teachers alike. He said he found Mark Stiles to be one of those that are very efficient.

Stiles, according to Tim, gives the students responsibility, daily repetition to further establish each lesson, and was also consistent.

In addition to these, “Mr. Styles was able to give the students passion for the music,” said Tim. “Teachers should be able to instill that sort of passion in a student.”

On the other hand, he recalled one of his past teachers, who wasn’t so productive. He said she taught based on stereotypes rather than fact and experience, used modern takes on things which happened long ago without considering culture differences, and expected her students to know certain things without teaching them.

Explained Tim, “She gave quizzes without good solid practice.”

However, Tim’s ineffective teacher cannot be dismissed due to having teacher tenure. If she had waved a gun at her class, then yes, she would be fired.  But the Leesville administration cannot fire her for muchless.

The NY Post wrote that “[w]ith vast teacher layoffs looming, now is the time to end a practice that blatantly ignores our students. To turn a blind eye to teacher quality is to turn a blind eye to the needs of our children.”

Teacher tenure is outdated and overrated. Although the original intentions when it was put in place may have been auspicious, it has grown into something which hinders the education of today’s and future generations and also prevents new teachers from gaining experience and implementing their new styles, interesting ideas, and talent in the classroom.


  1. Perhaps it is not a question regarding the skill of the teacher–but the work ethic of the student.

  2. Excellent article! As a parent of two very different types of student, I completely agree that an ineffective teacher can have disastrous effects on students’ ability to learn and their attitude toward school . My naturally studious child is better able to deal with ineffective teachers, but suffers nonetheless with the added stress. I have also seen my naturally carefree and social child blossom under the guidance of a creative, engaging teacher and become motivated to earn the best marks. I would like to see an evaluation system that is able to pinpoint which teachers are able to reach all kinds of students and enable them to succeed. Teachers who can only be effective with the best and the brightest, or the ones who need the most help, are allowing too many students to slip through the cracks. If you survey the kids who say they hate school, I am willing to bet they have had more than their share of ineffective, passive teachers. It would be great if teachers could earn monetary awards for showing creativity in the classroom. On the flip side of the coin, teachers who consistently get poor evaluations or have large numbers of students requiring to pay for tutors should have to pay a fine if they want to remain in their jobs. These children are the future leaders of our world and we need to ensure that they are receiving the best education they can!

  3. Great article, Miss Zargo! I totally agree that we should use a scale of effectiveness to evaluate teachers. That way, we can get rid of ineffective older teachers AND ineffective younger teachers. However, I think it is important to mention that it’s not always the older teachers that prove to be ineffective, but many younger teachers as well. I think tenure pay and protection would absolutely be acceptable if the teacher is also effective. Then again, the question becomes–How do we evaluate the effectiveness of teachers? Surely not with standardized test scores! Student surveys wouldn’t really work either, and merit pay is pretty much impossible because there is just no way one can honestly measure the success of a teacher due to the inherently unequal expectations of education. Think about the variety of students out there and the diverse needs of each and every individual kid! There’s got to be a solution out there…but I agree Maggie, the way tenure is right now just isn’t going to cut it.


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