I have been deliberately silent about the whole Wisconsin/collective bargaining thing, because, frankly, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it.
As a public school teacher, I stand alone on several union issues, which makes it rather lonely in my corner of the world sometimes.
- I resent being strong-armed to join the teacher union (in other words, I can pay $600/year and join, or not join and still pay $600/year).
- I feel that as long as teachers are an organized labor entity, we will never be treated as the modern professionals most of us are.
- I think the teacher union has come to represent an unfortunate dichotomy: it protects both good and bad teachers.
I agree with Nicolas Kristof from the Times, who said:
Look, I’m not a fan of teachers’ unions. They used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective.
But none of this means that teachers are overpaid. And if governments nibble away at pensions and reduce job security, then they must pay more in wages to stay even.
Moreover, part of compensation is public esteem. When governors mock teachers as lazy, avaricious incompetents, they demean the profession and make it harder to attract the best and brightest. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.
I had words years ago with a teacher in Florida who challenged my opinions on the fact that as long as we are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, we’re not on the same level as private sector professionals. He said, “What are you talking about? Look at the NFL and MLB unions. Are you telling me those guys aren’t highly paid professionals AND members of organized labor?” My response, while I can’t remember it verbatim, went something like, “Fine. And what happens if a player fails to perform up to standards?”
The truth is that labor unions have held sway for so long in this country, their original purpose (and it was a good one, built on solid principles) gets lost in the fog. You can’t negotiate for salary the same way for teachers as you can for, say, auto workers. The product we work with is human — therefore changeable, unpredictable and individual — not mechanical, like chassis and brakes. Personally, I say let me negotiate my own salary, based on my accomplishments and end product, like I would in a private sector job. But it can’t work like that for classroom teachers, since the government stepped in and tied their worth to a bubble sheet score on one test given on one day.
I think we should just pay teachers more at the get-go, and maybe the unions wouldn’t be so suspicious of all outside forces. I think NCLB has to go. Right out the window, right now, today. (However did any of us survive without it before?)
This just scratches the surface of the issue. You can’t change the past; the union “is what it is.” Changing the future is going to be a massive task if this thing is ever going to see a conclusion. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Blah…I have more to say, but I’m now 20 minutes behind schedule. Gotta git.