The MinnCAN blogging fellowship affords an opportunity to share ideas and investigate questions in eight different blogs. But choosing eight topics will be a challenge, because I have about a million ideas and even more questions.

Three decades ago, I left Rosholt High School to study at Concordia College in Moorhead. After 25 years of teaching secondary English in six districts across Minnesota, I’m now in my second year as the continuous improvement specialist at Northside Elementary in St. James.

My alma mater is the No.1 high school in South Dakota, according to U.S. News and World Report. Low class size, high expectations and strong community partnerships contribute heavily to the high-quality education students receive in this town of 406 on the North Dakota-Minnesota border.

While planning courses for the final semester of my junior year at Concordia, my advisor asked why I hadn’t considered an Education degree. This question encouraged me to add Secondary Education to my English major (and, ultimately, began a life of incredible teaching and learning).

I returned to RHS to request a letter of reference from my former high school superintendent and Chemistry instructor. “Don’t do it,” he advised. He still signed the form and approved of my decision, but his advice certainly made me think about the challenges ahead. (To be honest, I had no idea…and for that, I’m pretty glad.)

Recently, a teaching candidate—with many similar challenges ahead—bemoaned to me the limitations of tenure. She wanted to try new strategies without fear of reprimand, and to shed the target on her back that comes with being a probationary teacher.

But even educators with tenure often face a lack of support to be innovative and many still operate with a target on their back.

So, I commiserated with her, but also assured her that tenure isn’t a quick fix. It doesn’t establish a no-target zone or shelter you from reprimands should a new classroom strategy garner negative results.

There is no doubt that the conversation about tenure will increase both in breadth and clamor during the upcoming legislative session. I just cross my fingers that voices of educators—both beginning and seasoned—are part of a respectful exchange of points and counterpoints.

One truth will surely emerge for those participating in these conversations: teacher tenure has strong and important roots.

I would love to see tenure become a moot point, and for all educators to have support to the degree my young friend desires, to the degree that will help them all be successful.

But, in reality, none of the seven school districts I’ve worked for fit that description. And until we have a stronger system for developing and supporting all teachers as professionals, I believe tenure gives a necessary safeguard to educators in a complex job with ever-increasing pressures, and where administrators do have tools to remove those who don’t meet their demands.

Tenure doesn’t entitle me to be a lousy teacher. It does, however enable me to speak to issues protecting the best interests of my students—and also my probationary teacher friend.

There was a reason my mentor cautioned against my career choice decades ago. There is also a reason I encouraged my son to pursue an Education degree (and he is!). My son’s dedication will earn him tenure at some point, and that safeguard will help him enhance his abilities and further his commitment to the community he chooses to call home—all to the benefit of his students.

Tenure is important. It’s also important that we encourage young, dedicated people—like my son and my friend—to enter the classroom, and maintain support so they stay. I hope that during the legislative session and beyond, we can respectfully discuss both of these issues and work towards giving all teachers the tools they need to be successful.


Lee Carlson taught high school English for over twenty years before becoming the continuing improvement specialist at Northside Elementary in St. James, Minn. He’s a former national director for the Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation and state corporate president for Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, and currently serves as a board member of Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Rural Education Association and Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. Lee’s interested in just about everything—especially hanging out with his wife (who teachers fifth-grade) and three children—but mostly blogs about equity in education, teacher development, leadership and building partnerships.

The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.


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