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Mr. Rad’s TedX talk: What if the youngest teachers were the most protected?

“Our newest teachers aren’t learning to teach,” says Teacher of the Year Tom Rademacher. “They are learning how not to get fired.”

“Flipping Tenure,” a TEDx talk by Tom Rademacher

Every once in a while the universe rocks back and forth a little on its axis and ends up right where it ought to be. Exhibit A: Tom Rademacher, aka Mr. Rad, is halfway through his reign as Minnesota Teacher of the Year and he is killing it.

In addition to teaching writing to seniors at the downtown Minneapolis FAIR school, he is speaking and writing before and for pretty much any audience willing to open its minds and hearts. His particular passion is helping new teachers find their voices and stay in the classroom.

And his voice could not be more needed right now amid the din of people talking at each other about education rather than with each other. Among other reasons, this is because Mr. Rad has a gift for taking the boxes people attempt to stuff teacher voices into and turning them into mini-platforms for his inevitably big-hearted words.

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Case in point: The video appended to this post, of a TedX talk in which Mr. Rad sets forth one revolutionary idea about teachers and tenure. Right now in Minnesota, teachers who survive a tumultuous, lonely first three years in the classroom earn the protection of tenure.

“Imagine,” Rad asks, “if the youngest teachers were the most protected?”

What if they were given support and training and mentorship and, instead of worrying that each misstep would cost them the opportunity to come back next year, allowed to practice in a protected space?

“A few years of teacher prep and a lifetime of being obscenely liberal did not prepare me like I thought it would to be a successful teacher of kids of color,” he says in this talk, given at the University of St. Thomas.

And he was scared to ask for help when he shouted and got angry and underestimated his students, because he was necessarily focused on trying to ensure he’d be asked back to teach again.

“Our newest teachers aren’t learning to teach,” he says. “They are learning how not to get fired.”

There’s a lot packed into the talk’s six very worthwhile minutes. Including a reason to take in every word: As a profession, teaching is getting younger every year, and the teacher corps less experienced.

The other tenure debate? That’s one of those boxes Mr. Rad is only interested in upending.