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

“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.

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.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Will Stancil on 11/10/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    Good point, Mr. Rademacher

    There really should be an entity dedicated to improving work conditions of teachers and ensuring that schools don’t treat them as interchangeable, disposable units of labor. I’d love to see Rademacher work on getting something like that started; with platforms like this TED Talk, I bet he has friends in high places that will chip in, too!

  2. Submitted by Susan Herridge on 11/10/2014 - 02:30 pm.

    what a brilliant idea

    This is great. Such a simple idea, and quite do-able. A complete culture shift. Thank you so much for adding your ideas to this important discussion.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/10/2014 - 08:34 pm.

    Well said

    …Mr. Rademacher. It took me 5 years to figure out how to do what I wanted – and needed – to do to be effective in a classroom. I had that same fear he talks about, though I never hid under my desk at lunch, and the fear was justified. Rademacher is, I think, right on target in flipping the question and the solutions to it.

    I’ve referred often to a line that continues to resonate with me from “The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life” by Parker J. Palmer, “…Teaching always takes place at the crossroads of the personal and the public, and if I want to teach well, I must learn to stand where these opposites intersect…” The book is out of print now, I suspect, but that volume enabled me to explain to myself how I operated in a classroom, which was mostly by instinct because, especially early on, there was almost no support, and I didn’t know how to articulate to myself, much less others, the means by which I connected with kids, hoped to do so more effectively, and encouraged them to grow with me.

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