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Teachers And Their Unions: A Conceptual Border Dispute


The problem with opposing union practices that make it difficult to remove poor teachers (and there really aren't the numbers of poor teachers that the media and opportunistic politicians assert) is that it also removes due process protections that shield good teachers from abuse. In most cases, the impediment to removing a poor teacher is an administrator who is unwilling or unable to articulate a case why that teacher should be fired. As for paying good teachers at a level that reflects the value they add, it will never happen because there is no means available to measure what a good teacher adds and more importantly there is no pubic desire to pay teachers a salary that reflects the value of their work.

As a 45 year member of the AFT and UFT (run by a one party system for 50 years) I find some specious arguments going on here in saying "though the overwhelming majority of them, including new teachers, believe their unions are important)". Of course most public school teachers feel a union is important. But maybe if there debates were allowed and multi-party systems more people would take part. The total control by Unity Caucus in NYC where debate is shut down and all policies are issued as dictums from the top and enforced by people working in a patronage system is a major reason the anti-union message has gained some credence.

The idea that unions are responsible for unreasonable impediments to removing ineffective teachers is a myth. Usually the reason the ineffective teacher isn't removed is because an administrator or administrators have screwed up and they don't want their actions examined. Teachers don't want to work with ineffective teachers, but they don't want a colleague's professional rights ignored, either. And, teachers don't become ineffective over-night. So, either an admin screwed up in the placement or subsequently in their supervision of the teacher.

Matt, I think the bashing is a lot more common that you seem to indicate. Anti-union statements are often made in the context of teacher bashing. They are just used to justify teacher bashing, or are justified by teacher bashing. Losing due process rights? That because it is too hard to remove the huge number of horrible teachers that are keeping this country from leading the world in this that or the other. That's teacher bashing. Class size reduction? If you are against class size reduction than you are saying teachers current work load is fine and just (in some way). You are arguing against making the workload (e.g. grading of papers, contacting parents, making sure every student is well known, etc..) more managable. Is that bashing? Well, at the very least it is not far. Steadfast refusal to acknowledge how hard and how much teachers work feels a lot like bashing to me -- even if the bashers don't realize it. I could go on and on. One does not have to say "Teachers are lazy," "Teachers are stupid," "The kinds of people who go into teaching couldn't get a any other job," "Teachers are overpaid for the work they do," or anything else so explicitly to be engaged in teacher bashing. The Common Core State Standards have teachers focusing more are teaching students to be better aware of the assuptions and implications of claims and arguments. Those things count. And if you really pay attention to what the union-bashers are saying, there's usually quite a bit of teacher-bashing right there, too.

being in a union for a number of yrs myself i had no choice where my dues went,and was asked on my card payment if i wanted to contribute even more to the D.N.C. (basically a slush fund ) for the D.N.C only...Until they have equal representation from both parties it's a one sided argument(politically) ,and the families,taxpayers and communities are left in total frustration.

While local unions are comprised of real classroom teachers, many union priorities are determined at the state and national level. Outside of collective bargaining, very little seems to be determined locally. More often than not, locals take their marching orders from "higher ranking" union leaders. There are few real opportunities to influence policy locally, and many teachers feel disenfranchised by the top-down decision making process.

I sure wish more teachers would stand up against union practices that make it hard to remove poor teachers, and consequently make it hard to reward the best teachers. We'll never get to a point where the best teachers are paid at a level reflective of the value they add, as long as unions insist on collective bargaining tactics and contracts that protect the poor teachers at the expensive of real education reform.

Without the union, the job becomes political. Grades are given in exchange for continued employment. Before I had tenure, my job was on the line for not giving away grades to politician's kids. Tenure is due process, not a guarantee, unless administrators are ineffective, or political. Regarding resisting change, I wish unions had been able to resist whole language and new math. Both are disastrous policies that were pushed as educational reform by those who didn't understand education & saw an economic opportunity to sell a program. Many of the new "reforms" are not effective, but are forced on the system, and the teachers are blamed for the failure of a poorly thought out program. Maybe it the "reformers" were to work with the unions and respect the opinions of the people who actually do the job, we could see actual reform.


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