The following are excerpts from a Legislative Brief from the Offices of Research & Education Accountability from 2008 and explains teacher tenure in Tennessee as it currently stands and is available to read in full Here.

Since its inception in the early 1900s, teacher tenure has been a controversial education policy issue.  Proponents argue that tenure keeps capricious and prejudiced administrators from dismissing teachers because of nepotism, local politics, or personal conflicts. Opponents argue that teacher tenure in elementary and secondary schools results in principals’ inabilities to dismiss poor-performing teachers.

When a teacher is granted tenure in a school district, usually after a certain number of probationary years of teaching, he/she cannot be dismissed from that district without due process, and can only be dismissed based on specific causes, usually outlined in state statutes.  Tenure does not guarantee a teacher’s job; tenured teachers can be fired, although in practice this rarely occurs.

Tenure laws are products of collective bargaining agreements between states and the two main teachers’ unions.  The majority of Tennessee’s unionized school personnel are part of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), an affiliate of the NEA.

Acquiring Tenure

The Tennessee General Assembly established tenure for teachers in 1951. Under state law, a Tennessee public school teacher may be granted tenure if he/she:

  • Holds a degree from an approved four-year college; ƒ
  • Holds a valid professional license based on training covering the subjects or grades taught;
  • Has completed a probationary period of three school years or not less than 27 months within the last five-year period, the last year to be employed as a regular teacher; and
  • Is reemployed by a local board of education for service after the probationary period.

Teachers in Tennessee, as in 31 other states, are eligible for tenure following a three-year probation period. After the probation period, the director of schools has two options: deny renewal of the teacher’s contract or recommend the teacher for tenure to the local school board.  Local school boards in Tennessee make the decision to grant or deny tenure to a teacher.  No teacher is guaranteed continuity of employment in a particular assignment or school.

A superintendent may transfer a teacher from one location to another within the school system, or from one type of work to another for which the teacher is qualified and licensed, when necessary to the efficient operation of the school system.  Tenured teachers who move to another system must serve the regular probationary period (three years) in the new system. However, the local board of education may waive this requirement and grant tenure status or shorten the probationary period at the superintendent’s recommendation.

Dismissing a Teacher

Tennessee law outlines the five acceptable reasons a tenured teacher may be dismissed:

ƒ Incompetence, Inefficiency, Neglect of duty, Unprofessional conduct , Insubordination.

Exhibit 1 outlines the hearing dismissal process in Tennessee.

Dismissal hearing

The number of annual teacher dismissals and cost per dismissal hearing cannot be calculated with any precision. The Tennessee Department of Education retains no records of the number of dismissals. Despite a lack of concrete data, the estimated number of dismissal cases is fewer than 50 per year – less than one-tenth of a percent of Tennessee’s total teaching force.  Although only an estimate, this number suggests a very small percentage of Tennessee’s teachers are ultimately dismissed from their teaching duties.

Calculating the cost per dismissal hearing is also problematic.  To determine the fiscal impact of a dismissal hearing, local districts should consider:

  • Cost of attorneys’ fees to defend the district’s position against the teacher.
  • Cost of school board members’ time to hear the case. According to a Metro School Board member and TSBA officials,  cases can last many days with several hours of meetings daily.
  • Cost of Chancery Court proceedings if the case is appealed.

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