Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Picking” on teachers….

The Poppycock’s just wrapped up a brief vacation, with friends from New Jersey, on the Massachusetts coast line.  The weather could have been far better, but we had a grand time none the less.  We had some top drawer dining experiences, and the Inn we stayed at was marvelous.  More on that in a subsequent post.

The NJ friends are living the Chris Christie ‘revolution.’  And as fate would have it, the wife was a school nurse for years and years, working amidst public school teachers for decades. You might recall this post from a few weeks ago that featured a YouTube video of the governor commenting on the NJ Teachers’ Union.  

As the men’s discussions inevitably drifted to politics, the subject of Christie and his tussle with the teachers came up, and it became clear that my friend, who is as outspoken as this reporter, was ruffling the feathers of many of their friends (or former friends!) who are or were teachers.

That got me to thinking of the ways in which such discussions get shaped by those in the attitude formation business.  In so many words, anytime someone speaks in opposition to teachers’ contracts and/or other aspects of the relationship between teachers and the public schools, out comes the demonization rhetoric. The ‘schoolies,’ as I call them, are masters at pushing back and making the taxpayers the bad guys, as are union officials.  It’s their job, after all.

To whit:

  • “Why are you picking on the teachers?  They’re hard working, dedicated, and supremely competent professionals.”
  • “Teachers aren’t paid nearly enough for what they do, and they deserve more respect.”
  • “Teachers are only in it because it’s for the children.”
  • “We moved here because of the superb schools, and every one of our children’s teachers is a saint.”

Which brings us back to the point that Christie makes: it’s not the teachers, it’s the teachers’ unions.


Think about that last word – union – for a moment, and what it means.  A union exists to represent it’s members collectively; they call it collective bargaining.  Collective means: ‘of or characteristic of a group of individuals taken together: the collective wishes of the membership.’

In other words, an individual teacher doesn’t represent them self; nor does the union represent an individual teacher.  The union represents a collection of teachers as a whole.

In the process, a teacher gives up their individuality, those things that make them different from everyone else, and instead, the group takes their place.

They become homogenized after a fashion.  Instead of Mary Johnson, the beloved 2nd grade teacher at George Washington elementary, she is column 4, step 19 in the 09/10 salary schedule.  Instead of Bill Bilodeau, superb math teacher at Rydel High, he’s column 3, step 21 in the same salary schedule.

They work in a system that pays the very worst teacher the same as the very best teacher with the same educational background and years of service.  They settle for a system that sees them not as an individual, not a leader, but as a dues payer, a follower.

They allow themselves to be treated as a faceless union member with no chance to have their merit or superior performance distinguish them from others who are not as competent or dedicated as they are.  They allow others to speak for them in the name of “the greater good” of union members.  They tacitly support the retention of those who don’t belong in their profession.

They allow others to repeat the “it’s for the children” mantra over and over and over, even though the union makes it clear that “it’s for the adults.”

They take their leadership from national union officials who say things like this:

“When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Albert Shanker - President of the United Federation of Teachers [1964-1984] & the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]

Simply put, they have allowed the union to be the face of their profession, to be their face.  And in the process, their status as a professional.

Teachers have become faceless, and the face of the union has become who they are in the public discourse.  This is a disservice to them as individuals, but it is entirely predictable and understandable, given the nature of the public discourse, and those who control it.

Perhaps it’s time for you teachers to reassert yourselves as individuals, and for each of you to take control of YOUR image and the public perception of you. 

I could not stand to be handled as you are being handled.  It seems like anything but  professionalism.

Even worse, in these times of unsustainable and completely unreasonable growth in public sector spending, something clearly has to give.  In particular, public schools are pricing themselves out of business, and their performance does nothing to justify the cost increases.  For a robust review of the situation, read this recent article.

Here’s a sample of the pithy analysis:

“Wait a minute,” the earnest liberal says, “we’ve got swell public schools here in Flourishing Heights. The kids take yoga. We just brought in a law school placement coordinator at the junior high. The gym has solar panels on the roof. Our Girls Ultimate Frisbee team is third in the state. The food in the cafeteria is locally grown. And the vending machines dispense carrots and kiwi juice.”

Wouldn’t it be something if public school teachers decided to teach us all a lesson by reforming their own ‘profession.’  Wouldn’t it be amazing if they decided to take control of their individual circumstances instead of ceding them to a centrally controlled organization that is not in it for the ‘customer,’ but instead imbues them with an image of intimidation and protectionism.

But that’s just me, and I’m not like the others.

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  1. I couldn't agree more, and I'm a teacher (a young one too). Let me be a true professional by recognizing my accomplishments in the classroom, not the number of years that I've been teaching and paying dues to a union.

  2. Welcome aboard, Jill! And thanks for what you do and, your refreshing views!