I am a proud union teacher

I stand with my unionized sisters and brothers, especially in Wisconsin, but everywhere where teachers and unions are under attack.

I am the lead union representative for more than 100 teachers in my school.

Today, all across the country, teachers are blogging their support for our unionized sisters and brothers in Wisconsin, and you can follow some of the results of that at EDUSolidarity

Today I want to tell you why I am proud to be a union member as well as a teacher.

I teach my students one period a day. We have 9, since some students take a zero period at 7:15 in the morning to squeeze in an extra course. Most of my students are sophomores, with at least 6 courses besides mine. I am only one of those responsible for helping them learn.

For me teaching is a collaborative effort. It includes not only those of us formally designated as educators, but all of the support staff as well.

Why are teachers unionized? Why do we insist on seniority being a major part of decision making about who stays and who goes?

Let’s go back. Why are any workers unionized? Because without cooperation, without the support of a union, an individual worker is at a huge disadvantage in negotiating with an employer – that applies to working conditions, to compensation, to benefits. As an individual, one is negotiating from a position of weakness. As part of a larger group, there is more leverage, and thus less capriciousness and even maliciousness in how those in positions of authority can deal with one who lacks the protection of a union.

Nowadays we hear all kinds of statements about how seniority is keeping bad teachers and forcing good teachers out. Baloney. As a union rep I have helped move out bad teachers, teachers who were not good for the students. I ensured it was done fairly, that they had due process. That protects me and all the other teachers.

How do we determine an “effective” teacher anyhow? If we make it all about test scores we will cheat the students of a real education.

That’s not the real issue. That is the rhetorical cover to replace more experienced teachers with noobies, largely over money. That’s right. Over money.

Put all the pieces together.

We have Bill Gates saying that teachers don’t really improve after their 3rd year. He says that additional degrees don’t benefit the students by improving the teaching. Oh, and he wants to stop paying for years of service.

My base pay is twice that of a beginning teacher. Absent protections of seniority, how hard would it be for an administrator pushed financially to find an occasion to find me, and other more experienced teachers, less than effective so that s/he could replace me with two bodies, thereby saving money on the budget.

The workman of any kind is worthy of his hire. Some apparently don’t believe that. They opposed raising the minimum wage, which is still far below what one needs to live. They want to pay less than minimum for teen-aged part-time workers.

If the mentality is only about saving upfront costs, then we may be penny wise and very pound foolish. In engineering, whether a nuclear reactor near Sendai or levees near New Orleans, failure to put enough resources in up front can lead to catastrophic failure.

The unwillingness to pay for the experience and quality of senior teachers leads to a constant turnover of younger, inexperienced teachers who are still trying to learn how to teach. While there may not be a catastrophe of the magnitude of Katrina, the loss of learning opportunities for our students is often irrecoverable.

I want to quote a dear friend, with her permission. Renee Moore is one of the most distinguished educators in the US. She is a former Mississippi State Teacher of the Year. She has sat on the boards of a number of key organizations, including the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She is a superb writer and speaker about education. She recently included the following words in an email a number of us received:

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