National Teacher Appreciation Week
May 8-May 12 is National Teacher Appreciation Week, where Americans are given the opportunity to thank the teachers who work so hard to educate us all. Thankfulness is important, but we should also remember that teachers need our support. Support can mean many things, from the individual to the institutional. One way in which teachers can be supported is by giving them what so many of us seek; job security and an assurance that they would only be let go for cause. This is one of the key elements of tenure, which you can see listed in the image to the right. This is from the 1936 edition of the Research Bulletin of the National Education Association, found in Gelman Library's Special Collection Research Center.
At a time when only 31% of Americans support giving tenure to teachers, it is important to remember why our nation's educators received tenure in the first place. Without tenure, teachers could be fired for any reason. Often it was the case that a teacher was fired simply so they could be replaced with someone younger and willing to take less pay, regardless of how well they were at their job. Additionally, teachers faced political pressure in what they taught. It's notable that when the National Education Association studied the issue of teacher tenure in the early 20th century, the body tasked with the study was named the Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom. While college campuses are where issues of academic freedom most often play out, schoolteachers have faced their share of suppressed speech, as well. The most famous case in American history is undoubtedly that of John Scopes, the Tennessee high school teacher who was fined $100 for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in violation of Tennessee's Butler Act.
Kate Frank and two other Muskogee, OK teachers were let go in 1943 with neither warning nor a reason. It was alleged, and never denied, that she was fired for not supporting the winning candidate for a school board position during the campaign. When she took the school district to court, with help from the National Education Association, she was taking on a fight many before and after could or would not. She won her lawsuit, which is why we remember her name today. Had she had the protection of tenure, that lawsuit would have been unnecessary, and the forgotten names of teachers who never got justice.
To learn more about the National Education Association and its history of advocating for the rights of educators, visit Special Collections on the 7th floor of Gelman Library or contact the NEA Archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-334-1371.