Opinion - December 24, 2010
Hostility toward teacher's union
I confess that I find it strange and rather sad that the teacher's union is viewed with so much mistrust and hostility in Pleasanton. Ask anyone what image is conjured up by the word "teacher" and the answer is usually "a kind, hard-working figure who cares for his students." How strange then, that the phrase "teacher's union" elicits such a dramatically different response. Are the teachers who choose to belong to their union somehow transformed into totally different people?
Teacher's associations were developed to ensure that educators would be viewed as professionals and receive protections from people who place politics over sound educational practices. Before there were unions, it was not uncommon for teachers to be fired for getting married, becoming pregnant, having an adult beverage with friends, teaching about evolution or being a member of the wrong political party. It is against these forces that teacher's unions have worked to provide protections through collective bargaining. This process allows for the creation and maintenance of a contract establishing fair working conditions, fair compensation and a process for dealing with unfair treatment.
A teacher's union is nothing more than a collection of those same saints who greet your children with a smile each day.
Trevor Knaggs, President, Association of Pleasanton Teachers
Posted by joe,
a resident of Dublin
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:57 am
Teachers and students should not be forced into a flawed economic model as 'producers' and 'consumers'. Teachers have been hired to teach our children, and we want to provide teachers every opportunity to excel at their tasks. An abstract and demonstrably problematic economic model should not be imposed upon the teacher-student relationship. For many reasons, teachers should not be expected to perform in a competitive, dog-eat-dog environment; such an environment does not produce good teaching but instead encourages strategic short-cutting, back-stabbing, kiss-upping, and all other manner of unfortunate human behavior that is not conducive to good teaching.
We have long since moved beyond the Fordist assembly-line model of time-motion studies that treat employees as trained and expendable circus animals. Unions have helped immensely in this regard. Teachers unions, specifically, are necessary. I have spelled out above some of the many reasons why they are necessary. Another worthwhile factor to note is that school administrators are structurally situated such that they often don't care so much about students learning, but rather get rewarded for things like cost-cutting, pleasing the loudest parents, and pleasing whatever politicos are currently in office. Remove the unions, and all sorts of dysfunctional havoc will prevail in the classroom.
More specifically, this is also why teachers' unions almost without exception endorse a seniority model. Yes, it can be unfortunate and sometimes unfair for those last hired who then become first to be laid off. Of course, given the importance of education, no teachers should be getting laid off. But when lay-offs are deemed necessary by the powers at large, the least harmful way has been to lay-off the most recently hired. They tend to be younger, often without families yet, and without having settled into a lifestyle such that they would unduly suffer as a consequence of being laid off. But perhaps even more importantly, as teachers unions rightly have noted, a lay-off formula based upon some other criteria opens up a pandora's box that removes teachers from their primary tasks of educating our children as it turns them into political animals who are only out for themselves. This kind of pandora's box works against teachers collaborating with one another in helpful ways. Instead of concentrating on students, teachers would be attempting to please whomever is responsible for making lay-off decisions. Teachers' unions, like most other institutions, are imperfect; but I think they have correctly thought through this issue.
So, too, with some form of testing as criteria for success. For those deeply involved in academia, there is the realization that 'good teaching' is an elusive descriptor. Some students and their parents who moan and complain about a certain teacher, for example, may, upon reflection, five or ten years down the line recognize that that teacher was the best teacher they had ever had. They simply hadn't realized it early on. Further, we do not have a test that is sensitive enough to measure all aspects of a teacher's complex role in students' lives; nor are there tests that can take into account such factors as parental involvement or administrative support or degree of collegial cooperation. Teachers' unions I think rightly are wary of placing any such imperfect testing mechanism into the hands of administrators or politicos whose agendas may not be in either teachers' or students' best interests. All sorts of abuses, worse -- probably much worse -- than those we currently see, are likely. As a former academic administrator I have to tell you that most administrator types have the bottom line goal of personal advancement and success. This often puts their interests at odds with (creative, risk-taking) teachers and their students. And most of us are aware of the kinds of agendas politicians may have. All too often, they want to please a voting public, which sometimes is a virtue of course, but when it involves stepping into the ranks of trained, well-intentioned, hard-working professionals (teachers) it can be entirely counterproductive.
Mine I think is a real-world analysis that argues against applying some simple, abstract 19th century economic model to real people. Our children and their teachers do not deserve being so intruded upon.