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Friday, November 25, 2011

The probem with the teacher"s union? They don't protect good teachers

With full disclosure, I believe in teachers unions, I am a member of Duval Teachers United and I have never been more disappointed in teachers unions than I am right now.

At a recent Union meeting I arrived ready to talk about the firestorm that is brewing around teachers and teachers unions however the old bait and switch occured. Instead of discussing strategies to combat the rampant disinformation being put out there, the union instead wanted to discuss a membership drive. They even flew in some guy from San Diego to lead the session. He had also just come from meeting with several other teachers unions throughout the state. At our tables they asked us to role play scenarios that would help us attract new members. I and many others sat dumbfounded.

Where of course we want the union to be strong, Rick Scott, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckenberg, none of whom were every teachers by the way, connected only by their vast fortunes, Michelle Rhee and several others already have teachers unions in their cross hairs and what at least my union doesn’t get, is that they are going to come after the teachers unions whether membership is sixty percent or one hundred percent. It doesn’t matter. Furthermore this group of super rich, with their marketing machines and cherry picked stats are way ahead of teachers in getting their message out and the message they are selling and that many people are buying is that the unions are bad for education and thus children and that our schools are staffed with lazy teachers unconcerned about their students education, just riding it out until they can retire. They are selling the bad teacher narrative and business for them has been good.

As I looked around the room my morale began to sink as I realized, now hopefully not to late, was the union just beginning to wake up and it dawned on me that the teachers unions were at least partly responsible or the hole teachers currently found themselves in; that they may have been one of the architects of their own destruction.

You see the union sat back and allowed standardized testing to be perverted into the end all be all of education.

The union shrugged its shoulders as districts began to gut discipline and insist teachers socially promote children without the skills they need to be successful at the next level.

Whatever, the union said, as districts began eliminating the teaching of trades, skills and the arts and started forcing all children regardless of aptitude, ability or desire into a one size fits all curriculum.

The union also turned a blind eye as teachers became inundated with mountains of paperwork that at best only had a peripheral relationship with students learning and teachers teaching.

The union turned its back as creativity and initiative were practically legislated out of teaching.

They did nothing about these problems despite the fact teachers all over the district and the nation new they were wrong and set back both kids and the profession. Instead the teachers unions were content to fight for a little extra time off here or a little extra money there, ignoring the real issues that teachers and students faced everyday in their classrooms; issues that have led directly to the abysmal state that our education system currently finds itself in. The teachers unions may have not created the problems above but through their omission they allowed them to fester and grow and now that the chickens have come home to roost, I thought to myself, all they are interested in is boosting membership!?!

For now the Teachers Unions seem content to sit back and allow the super rich and politicians, people for the most part who were never teachers (Michelle Rhee had a cup of coffee as a teacher) and never in schools; who themselves more often than not send their children to private schools that emphasize teachers experience, small classes and receiving a well rounded education with the arts, things they say aren’t important in public schools, tell their story, the bad teacher narative without an opposing voice. In doing so the unions are allowing them to further erode public education and the perception the public has of teachers. In the last year teachers have gone from respected and valued members of the community to borderline pariahs responsible for the ills of society. The Unions wanting to build membership first, is almost like somebody complimenting Nero’s fiddle playing as Rome burned down, sure the music might have been nice but the people at the time had slightly more pressing problems.

I get it though; the more members a union has the stronger it is and I want it to be strong too. It allows teachers to bargain collectively and it protects teachers right to due process, not bad teachers, as some would have the public believe. However every day the teachers unions and teachers sit back and allow the powers-that-be spread the myth of the bad teacher, every day we allow them to ignore factors like poverty, arguably the number one factor in determining a child’s success in school, every day we allow the public to be spoon fed the myths of charter schools which despite the fact they don’t have to play by many of the suffocating rules that public schools do, studies show for the most part perform no better and often perform worse, every day we allow the policy makers, parents, politicians, the students and the public, all equal shareholders in the problems we are now facing to get a pass, ignore their culpability in the problems we have, is one more day teachers get weaker and weaker, more marginalized, demonized and demoralized. Every day we wait for the teachers unions to wake up and fight back teachers’ get farther and farther behind.

Teachers, which I remind you, the vast majority of who are professional, work hard, sacrifice and do a good job. Teachers who deserve better from both their unions and those who would seek to belittle and marginalize them.

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