J. Tyler Walthall
36 Campbell L. Rev. 303 (2014)
There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies. ~Robert Frost
Ms. Walker is an indisputably horrible educator. She “teaches” seventh grade English, lectures by reading from a pre-printed manual, has trouble understanding the subject matter, never goes beyond the call of duty, ignores e-mails from parents, and has six miserable, passionless years of teaching experience. She graduated from a local university with a degree in literature and has never been reprimanded by her superiors. Parents often complain about her, but such remonstrations fall on deaf—or powerless—ears. She has been ceremoniously “observed” a few times by a number of overworked principals, and while they do not love her pedagogy, they fail to pinpoint anything that Ms. Walker is actually doing wrong. Thus, after a few mediocre, but passable, reviews and evaluations, Ms. Walker is, on paper, a model employee; she is always sure to turn her work and grades in on time, she never leaves early, and she shows up for hall duty whenever she is scheduled. She is rude, resentful, unintelligent, discouraging, and a detriment to her students. Ms. Walker is also a tenured teacher in North Carolina. The school board for her district would like to terminate her, but without any valid, tangible, enumerated reasons, it is paralyzed by fear of a subsequent lawsuit. Thus, it does nothing, much to the chagrin and detriment of her students and their parents.
A myriad of legal issues and competing interests surround teacher employment, tenure, retention, and termination in North Carolina. Perhaps most obvious in the aforementioned hypothetical is the conflict between teacher job security and educational accountability. Many contend that teachers should have some form of job stability and/or recourse when unjustly terminated. Others argue that teachers should be held accountable for their actions, attitudes, and abilities; that is, that teachers like Ms. Walker should be politely shown the door, as they undoubtedly would be in the private sector. Who is right? Is there a system that provides for both interests? Does the North Carolina statutory system for hiring, maintaining, and terminating public school educators account for both of these occasionally competing, and all too often politically polarizing, interests?
This Article will examine the past, current, and future employment issues involving North Carolina public school teachers, celebrate the progress that has been made in the last fifty years, compare our system to those of other states, discuss the competing interests involved, and make suggestions for improvement. To accomplish these goals, this Article will first examine both the historical and current state of the teacher employment statutes controlling in North Carolina, with a critical eye toward the statutes’ positive and negative attributes. Second, this Article will scrutinize the applicable case law, paying particular attention to the procedural hoops through which administrators must jump to terminate a public school teacher in North Carolina. Third, this Article will examine the statutes’ effects on the quality of North Carolina public school teachers, as seen through the prism of recent research. Fourth, this Article will examine the North Carolina system of public school teacher employment through the lens of recent scholarship in comparison with employment systems utilized in other states. Finally, this Article will conclude with an examination of a bill recently passed by the North Carolina General Assembly that changes the system by which North Carolina public school teachers are employed and terminated.
AUTHOR. B.A., J.D. The author, an attorney and former teacher, would like to thank Dr. Ken Coley and Wake County public school teacher Rita Coby for showing him what every educator should be; Professor Melissa Essary; and the Campbell Law Review staff whose guidance, feedback, and edits made this Article readable. All errors and boring portions are solely the fault of the author.