Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why I support Unions.

The Union will block spurious, petty and mean administrators from firing the competent as well as the incompetent. This is good because the administrator usually has no real idea which is which.

The Union will ensure that teachers get a fair shake when they are dealing with someone who has no real need to be fair.  This is not the owner of a company who is watching every dollar out of his own pocket -- this is a transient employee who has too much power and not enough knowledge.

They float through once, twice a year in a choreographed display of feigned interest in what I am doing. Three weeks before, I get a note saying when they'll arrive and which class they'll be observing - get a lesson plan ready and do the pre-observation meeting. Then they'll watch the class, make a few notes. In the case of the more recent attendees at admin training workshops, they'll attempt to record my speech verbatim in the vain hope that recording every word spoken will somehow tell them more than just listening attentively. This is real?

We meet for the post-op and I'll be given a letter that specifies what they observed. Some of the more insightful comments were "Good lesson" and "knows the material." One of the less insightful was "Separates the kids into two groups by gender." I taught algebra in the chorus room -- apparently Mr. HIP didn't notice that the aisle down the middle separated the kids into two groups and that they took the same places as they normally did during chorus -- I don't do seating charts and usually pay no attention to where students sit. No, he thought I was being discriminatory.

I went 6 years before I was observed again. How was that principal supposed to know anything about me or anyone else in the building? How were they (five in six years) supposed to determine that X should go?

When an admin played games, got in the face of someone improperly, tried to ruin a teacher, there was always the Union stepping in to make sure that things were proper. That is its best role, to act as a buffer, to make sure that each i is dotted and t crossed. I was lucky (knock on wood). I had developed a CYA model and kept tons of paperwork and evidence. When parents complained or school boards took a closer interest, I always had a defense. What if I weren't paranoid?

The Union negotiates a contract. The contract is held up as a object of derision by many on the right - "Look at this egregious waste of taxpayer money. Look at this contract. We shouldn't allow teachers to quote the contract when they might get into trouble!" What an incredible thought, that a contract shouldn't be followed by both sides. "Gullible Boards sign outrageous contracts!" Actually, they sign a contract that both sides agreed to.

Show me any industry that breaks contracts at a whim. I'll wait.

Everybody complains about the LIFO, salary schedule, no merit pay clauses in the contract. When the dust settles, these clauses are seen as the most manageable. Since the admins are rarely around long enough to figure out the names of the teachers in the building, how are they supposed to know which one is worth keeping? The one who has been there for ten years or the kid just out of college who has no idea of what she's getting into? If you eliminate the salary schedule, then you'll have people like me getting $15,000 signing bonuses and thousands more than the English teachers. Really? Same job. Same experience. Think there won't be any bad feelings? Think the school will run just fine anyway? If you don't have a contract, then I'll demand more money and different working conditions because I know the school is desperate. Maybe I'll train for six weeks and be a dilettante TFA who does the school a favor by my presence and leaves when a real job is available.

The Union works for that contract and makes sure that both sides abide by it.

As for merit pay, this is a fantasy dreamed up by a billionaire. If I get a bonus every year because I suck up to the principal, how long do you think there will cooperation in the department? If I don't trust him to know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to hiring and firing, I sure don't want a large fraction of my income held over my head - "maybe you will and maybe you won't."

Far from being the leech on the blood veins of education, unions are the force that makes education work as smoothly as it does.


  1. Is there some reason that we should not be allowed to have a contract? This current attack on teachers unions is unreal. Let us teach, treat us fairly, are those such outrageous requests?

  2. Yes, Merit Pay is a fantasy dreamed up by billionaires. For many public schools, NCLB has become a nightmare. Obama & Duncan's RTTT is even worse, which is why so many educators and parents have signed up to participate in the Save Our Schools March on DC that is coming up in July. I would like to invite you and your readers to participate in our April campaign, which is “We Won’t Be Fooled Again.”

    We hope to make readers aware that the proposed legislation for reauthorizing NCLB will not work any better than the 2001 legislation did. If you blog on that subject or RTTT (including Merit Pay) or Blueprint, please send your post to us at saveourschoolsmarch@gmail.com so that we can include it on our website under the theme. Or, if you are on Twitter, here’s the hashtag if you’d like for your tweet to show up on our Twitter feed:#wontbefooled

    Thank you for writing about your support of unions. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    Kelli Reyes
    @TeacherReality on Twitter