I have never been a huge fan of labor unions, except for their historical significance. There is no doubt that unions played a huge role in eliminating the exploitation of workers, making working conditions safer, and getting child labor outlawed. Labor unions were needed during the industrial revolution. But have they outlived their usefulness?
I’ve been avidly watching the battle between the teachers’ unions and the Wisconsin legislature play out this past week. The teachers are adamant about preserving their unions, and as a non-union teacher in Georgia, I have been wondering whether that’s the right choice. Is retaining the union worth the battle?
No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have placed the blame for poor education directly on the shoulders of teachers. It is not a pleasant time to be a teacher. The pressure to teach students what they need to know in order to pass one multiple choice test has crushed the life out of teaching. Federal politics interfere with the ability of our teachers to teach our children to think for themselves; instead, success is measured by the ability of our children to parrot rote answers to superficial questions.
To date, I have seen no evidence that local teachers’ unions are able to make a difference in the political maneuverings that have caused this crisis in education. In Wisconsin, the teachers’ unions simply want to retain their collective bargaining rights. They want salary levels and benefits to be based on a uniform scale, and they want to reserve the right to go on strike when they don’t receive a raise in pay or benefits. These demands may sound like little enough to want – especially to a non-union teacher in Georgia who was furloughed 6 days this year – but don’t think there aren’t negative consequences to being a member of a teachers’ union.
In my opinion, teachers lose their “professional” status when they’re unionized. If you are a good teacher – and a majority of the teachers I know are – then you should receive a fair salary based on your own merit. People who are employed in private industry work hard to get ahead. A teacher in public education who works hard earns the same money as the teacher across the hall who checks her e-mail while her students fingerpaint on the walls. You put in your time, you get your paycheck. That’s a job, not a profession.
And what about that lousy teacher across the hall? Not only does she make the same pay as the highly effective teacher, but she also has immunity. It is nearly impossible to fire an incompetent teacher who is a member of a union. That teacher makes us all look bad and we should be able to replace her with someone who can do the job. Our children deserve the best.
|Talk about making us all look bad...|
Finally, we teachers can proclaim all we like that “the children come first”, but when our actions interfere with the processes of teaching and learning, the parents and students perceive that the children are not actually our priority. We lose their respect. Sick outs and strikes do not help our children learn and do not enhance the image of the professional educator.
Now is the time to stop and ask ourselves if the small amount of protection afforded to members of teachers’ unions is worth the consequences of fighting to keep them alive. Do the teachers’ unions have a legitimate place in solving the problems in education, or have they become part of the problem?