Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

The principal's office of Union City High Scho...

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I really like my principal. When his office door is open it is almost always okay to just walk in and talk to him. He’s smart, generally fair, willing to listen to ideas and different opinions. He gives useful, timely feedback on formal observations and more frequent informal ones. He talks to you in private. Most of all, he is consistent. Our school has very little teacher turnover. Our school rating has been rising steadily.

I’m not trying to butter him up; I just want to show how very different he is from the first principal I worked for.

It was impossible to just walk into that first principal’s office because it was behind a thick Plexiglas barrier and she had to buzz you in even to approach her. She was not open to ideas and had no interest in what parents or people on her staff thought or had to say. She regularly yelled at teachers in front of their students. She’d love you one day or year but hate you the next.

Barrier - PCA 93

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Feedback was rarely constructive and hardly timely; I’m still waiting for the results of her 2006 observation of my lesson.

On more than one occasion she changed the rating of a lesson observed by one of the assistant principals from satisfactory to unsatisfactory even though she was not present at the observation.

She once said in public, “I like my new white teachers better than my old white teachers.” I was a second year white teacher and turnover was so high it wasn’t clear whether I was new or old.

The first year that teachers could transfer without prior principal approval more than 70% of that school’s teachers moved on to other schools, including all of the fifteen or so first and second year teachers. The same thing happened the following year. That school’s rating declined consistently and now it is being closed.

I bring this all up because right now a 50-person state of New York task force is in a big hurry to develop a new teacher rating program. They want it written before the end of June so the regents can approve it and regulations can be developed to implement it in September.

You’d think that they’d want to test the never-before-tried plan before they broadly apply it, but no. Apparently teacher livelihoods are not so important that you’d want to make sure the system was fair, workable and accurate before using it to make decisions affecting the continuation of their careers.

Under the plan, teacher ratings as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective would be based 20% on student performance on state tests, 20% on school-district tests (that don’t now exist) or unspecified other measures, and 60% on classroom observations and other reviews. It is not at all clear what the basis for rating teachers in non-testing subjects — social studies, art, music, phys ed among others — or librarians would be.

Teachers rated as ineffective two years in a row will be subject to a hearing regarding the termination of their employment.

Governor Cuomo says, “We need a legitimate evaluation system to rely on.”

Absolutely, but this isn’t it.

The Journal News reports at least one educator on the panel creating the system, South Orangetown school superintendent Kenneth Mitchell, thinks the state is moving forward recklessly, “There’s a real potential for implosion…you need years to make these changes.”

One of the regents says he fears that forcing a new system on districts in such a short period of time could lead to unforeseen costs and worse.

“It’s gotten so far out of hand, but there’s nothing we can do at this point. If mistakes are made and the data is flawed, it would be terrible to make it public. People will say ‘I don’t want my kid in that person’s class.’”

Did you notice that not even the people worried about this program never mentioned the possible effect it could have on teacher livelihoods?

This is why teachers like me support unions.

United Federation of Teachers

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Without my union standing up for people like me principals like my first one could ruin careers on a whim.

Without my union standing up for me I would be leery of disagreeing with my principal no matter how much I thought he might be on the wrong track.

Without my union standing up for me I would not be able to say my chancellor, a very capable woman in the publishing field, is completely inexperienced, unqualified and unsuited to run a school system of any size, not to mention the biggest one in the country, and that by appointing her our mayor insulted the students, their parents, and everyone who works in the NYCDOE, no matter how true it is.

Without my union no teacher would be entitled to a fair hearing on disciplinary matters.

Without my union no parent would have any voice in the operation of their children’s schools.

Without my union the billionaires like Bill Gates.would not have anyone standing up to them as they privatized public education. Would anyone listen to him about anything to do with eduction if he didn’t have all that money?

Without my union the special education students would get lost in the shuffle and not get their mandated services.

Without my union standing up for people like me I would not have received the quality education I got from the NYC public schools.

Without my union standing up for me I’d be afraid to write this blog post.

That’s why teachers like me support unions.

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7 Responses to Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

  1. I definitely see teachers being more vulnerable if Unions are weakened. I also think there are some teachers that are totally ineffective and are able to keep their jobs because they are in a Teacher’s Union. There needs to be a system that is fair. I am a member of the Teacher’s Association because I like the professionalism and I have a sense of security if an unfair boss is discriminating. I also like how they truly seem to care about kids. Some draw backs to unions, however, is bad teachers are able to keep teaching. I remember walking into a classroom where the teacher sat behind her desk the entire time while students were on computers doing who knows what. Apparently, this was common practice for this teacher. Those students were totally ripped off. It made me sick. The principals didn’t bother trying to replace her because supposedly their hands were tied. I guess the process would be too lengthy. That teacher was a veteran and she didn’t need mentoring. She was on her way out anyway. In the meantime, the students were deprived of meaningful skills. We need to stop protecting bad teachers and that is what seems to be the argument. Unions would have a lot more credibility if they didn’t protect teachers that aren’t doing their job.

    • Deven Black says:

      Sorry Chris, that teacher was not kept in her job by the teacher’s union, she was kept in her job by principal unwilling or unable to do her job. If, as you say, this is the way the teacher always conducted class, it should not have been difficult for the principal to document the behavior and start removal.

      The teacher unions have no reason to support bad teaching in any form. Believe me, the other 50 or so members of the union in that school who did their jobs to the best of their ability did not want to support that other teacher, either. Unions support procedures that guarantee that should any principal pick on you and try to get you fired your rights will be protected. The same goes for that other teacher. There are procedures to follow and the principal decided not to follow them; how is that the union’s fault?

      The union did not write those regulations or procedures, either. They were negotiated, which means that the school district administration may have written them and, at the very least, agreed to doing things that way. Would you prefer what is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and other states where the legislature is writing the rules under which teachers work? Haven’t legislatures done enough damage by mandating so many special lessons and topics in crowded-enough curricula?

    • Frederika says:

      Chris: Teacher evaluation and recommendation for dismissal for just cause is completely a management responsibility. There is no union powerful enough to negate that responsibility. The principal did not take care of business because: he/she was lazy, jaded, inexperienced, too busy, uninformed, irresponsible, unwilling to stand up, or any combination of these reasons. I am a union president in Delaware. We worked for 3-4 years here to develop, pilot, and field test a statewide evaluation system before it was rolled out to all of the districts. Principal training needs to be improved and reinforced–we are working on this–but all in all, it is a good system. All I want is for Principal A to work hard to be fair and reasonable and to follow the established process TO THE LETTER. It is time-consuming, but it is not difficult. It seems like a worthwhile undertaking to assure teacher improvement or to weed out the less than effective in our ranks.

      The last thing that other teachers want is to work alongside or clean up after an ineffective teacher. We do not “protect” bad teachers.

      Ineffective administrators protect bad teachers. Who is in charge???

  2. I forgot to check off Notify me of follow-up comments via email.

  3. Thanks so much for your responses. The myth that they can’t get rid of bad teachers really needs to be cleared up because that is why so many people despise unions. I see the good in unions and I see the necessity and that is why I am a member. I go to the Delegate Assembly in Denver every chance I get and I meet teachers that are compassionate and truly dedicated to their profession. Unfortunately, many people in our society, including non-members in education seem to think that “bad” teachers join unions to protect their jobs.

  4. [...] in the Apple – New York, NY. Norm Scott – Education Notes – Rockaway Beach, NY. Deven Black – Education on the Plate – New York City, NY. devenkblack David Andrade – [...]

  5. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Devin. I always enjoy reading your blog.

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