Monday, December 20, 2010


I have been teaching in a public school for the past twenty years. I am a member of the union and I have tenure. I am also pretty high up on the seniority list. I am incredibly fortunate to be teaching in an excellent school district that has a pretty stable balance sheet; supportive, involved parents; and hard-working students who consistently score well on standardized tests. I am hardly unaware of my blessings. I don't really have too many issues being part of the union. I think that there are many times having union protection is a good thing for teachers. There is increasing financial pressure on school districts to get more bang for their taxpayer buck; unionized teachers can sleep a little easier at night knowing that they won't be unjustly let go so a district can save money. Some teachers know this and are grateful for it and are consummate professionals and will continue to be the very best teachers they can possible be. Some teachers, on the other hand, know they can't be easily let go and decide to rest on their laurels and can easily get away with doing very little work. These are the sub-standard teachers referenced by all the education reformers of late.

The teachers' unions have reacted passionately to the film Waiting for Superman, and rightly so. However, I also wish the unions would acknowledge some of the truths exposed in this film. One local president wrote, "The movie depicts our public schools in shambles and loaded with incompetent teachers." He is correct -- the movie does indeed do that. But to say that the depiction is false, that there are not public schools in shambles and that there are not incompetent teachers is akin to hiding one's head in the sand. No one associated with Waiting for Superman has said that ALL public schools are in shambles or ALL teachers are incompetent. The film does, however, expose the dirty little secret that when those bad schools and bad teachers do exist, the union membership should rally 'round their own and protect them. Personally, I am proud to leap up and defend my esteemed colleagues, but I am tired of having to stand in solidarity with some teachers who, quite frankly, suck. The president referenced above also wrote, " would make evaluations of teachers a comprehensive, complicated, and time-consuming process. Moreover, it would generally be based on student test scores." This sounds to me like there is an objection by the unions to thorough evaluations of teachers. Rather than the evaluations being "comprehensive", is it be preferable that they be quick and dirty? Teacher evaluations SHOULD be comprehensive and thorough and take into consideration many aspects of education. And while I disagree that students' test scores should be the end-all and be-all piece of data that determines a teacher's effectiveness, I see nothing wrong with multiple forms of data from tests being used to help determine a teacher's overall effectiveness in conjunction with other things, including multiple observations in the classroom by the principal, parent input, student input, and colleagues' input. But I'm betting the unions don't want any of that, either. It is much easier to leave teacher evaluations based on one classroom visit every other year. Surely one can see just how wonderful an educator is based on that amount of data (read: sarcasm).

I can't believe I am the only tenured teacher who is part of a union who feels this way. The bottom line is bad teachers make ALL teachers look bad, and I, for one, don't want to be lumped in with that lot of people who call themselves educators. I work very hard to keep my teaching relevant, and like any good teacher, I also recognize that I will always have much to learn and I'm not afraid of that (that's what life-long learning is all about). I would like to see the unions continue their wonderful support of deserving teachers but also acknowledge that the rotten apples are ruining the whole bunch of us. To me, recognizing that some educators need to be out of the classroom will show real strength from the unions; it is the ignoring of this fact that makes the unions weak.

No comments:

Post a Comment