Do “Rock Star” School Teachers Really Need a Teachers’ Union?

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Do Great Teachers Really Need a Teachers’ Unions?

The untimely death of Chief Justice Antonin Scalia may have bought teachers’ unions some time, but at some point the teachers’ unions will have to take a closer look at how they conduct their business in order to maintain relevancy amongst its constituents.

Re: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association:  NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry issued a joint statement condemning the court’s consideration of the case.  “We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life,” they said.  Is it too much to ask that not only do you have to play by the rules, but that you also have to show/prove consistent student gains in order to continue benefiting from this middle-class lifestyle (we as taxpayers) have afforded you?

I am speaking solely from the first six years of my teaching career, and from the experiences that I’ve had with one of the most powerful teachers’ unions in the US, The Baltimore Teachers Union, affectionately referred to as the BTU.

As a former building representative in the BTU, I can honestly say I didn’t know or fully understand how the union worked until I was able to get hands on, practical experience with dealing with union issues.  As a building representative, I was amazed at the things that I would see and hear.

I grew weary of the building representative position very fast. It seemed as if I was constantly talking and referring the same group of misfit teachers to union attorneys. These weren’t teachers that were “rock stars”, putting students first, and going above and beyond for students. These were the teachers that hated their jobs, hated kids, and had too much time on the job to start another career, so they were willing to bide their time, and ride the system out until retirement.

BCPSS knew that these underperforming teachers were a detriment to the system and to the profession, which is why there was a substantial push to pay teachers to retire.  I became overly frustrated with the system.  I thought education was meant to put students first but sadly I was mistaken.  I left to work in a different type of public school, a public charter school.  This is not to say that charter schools don’t have their own set of problems, they do.

In my experiences, charter schools do a better job with making students the focal point.  Charter schools also give parents, especially (Black and Latino parents) school choice.  A no cost alternative to the traditional public school system.  A choice that would not be afforded to most if it were not free.

Teachers that work in schools with kids that are historically disenfranchised should not be paid the same as teachers who do not.  Teachers that take on the largest challenges, and have success while doing so are the teachers that deserve to top the teacher pay scales.  I’m not taking anything away from teachers in suburban school districts, however working with the neediest students in poor, disenfranchised schools (usually students of color) has become the hardest schools to staff.

The key word for me these days is accountability.  Of course accountability looks different depending on your lens, but it’s importance is still relevant.  There needs to be a uniform way to hold teachers accountable for student achievement. If nationally, normed standardized testing is what’s agreed upon, and then let’s do it.

As a professional, do you think you should be held accountable for the teaching, learning and progress of your students?

In closing, I circle back to my initial question, do great teachers really need unions?

For the most part, I think we’ll have some folks that say yes, and we’ll have some folks that will say no.  But for the kids that I’m responsible for, I want teachers that aren’t watching the clock, teachers that know children raised in poverty need more, and are willing to give these students what they deserve.

What say you?

Who do you want teaching your kids?

*This is only meant to be a conversation piece.

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10 thoughts on “Do “Rock Star” School Teachers Really Need a Teachers’ Union?

    Caroline Grannan said:
    August 18, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    Ask Rafe Esquith.


    David B. Cohen said:
    August 19, 2016 at 2:44 am

    It’s unfortunate that your experiences with your union and district were so negative. I can see how your experiences have shaped your opinions. I would encourage you to learn more about what effective administrators can do to remove teachers even in unionized districts. Read about the unions that do much more to help teachers and kids–proactively focusing on better teaching and school reforms– going well beyond lawyer referrals. Learn more about the schools systems where unions and administrators work collaboratively to advance their shared mission to serve students better. Find out about the unionized charter schools and networks and consider the many reasons that they choose to unionize. And if the same difficulties in quality teaching exist in non-unionized schools and systems (and they do), then how is the union the key factor? In fact, unions improve the overall quality of teaching and improve student learning according to a study of a decade’s worth of data from around the country.


    Bill Adamsky said:
    August 19, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Gonna have to disagree about the union position, but right behind you on paying teachers more based on their job site. There ‘s got to be some kind of incentive for solid teachers to to staff (and stick around) struggling urban and rural schools. Leave my suburban high school for an inner-city one? No thanks. For an extra 10-20K? Now you’ve got my interest.


    […] the Baltimore school system and who now is working a charter gig. And in a recent post, he asks the question that lots of union critics think, but don’t always have the nerve to […]


    Do Rock Star Teachers Need A Union? – LOOK MY PAGE said:
    August 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    […] the Baltimore school system and who now is working a charter gig. And in a recent post, he asks the question that lots of union critics think, but don’t always have the nerve to […]


    […] the Baltimore school system and who now is working a charter gig. And in a recent post, he asks the question that lots of union critics think, but don’t always have the nerve to […]


    Erik said:
    September 7, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    “Rock star teachers” need unions because all teachers need unions. Rock star teachers, like all other teachers, win pay raises, academic freedom, pensions, and job protections through collective bargaining. One rock star teacher, ten average ones, and one poor one can hence collectively bargain much more effectively than a single rock star teacher. (If you don’t know that, you don’t know basic economics.) Thus, even in your fantasy scenario, in which a “rock-star teacher” performs well every year, as measured by standardized tests, that very rock star’s pay and benefits will erode, very quickly, as the union self-immolates, as you hope it does. Worse, you haven’t looked at the data. Charter school teachers earn less, not more, than public school teachers. And few earn pensions – since few survive pension-length careers.

    You might have therefore titled this piece, “Will rock star teachers be fired if they lack union representation?” since the binary of whether a teacher is hired or fired is all that seems to matter to you. You don’t care about compensation at all. And yet you don’t provide a shred of evidence to support that the best teachers don’t need unions. You merely argue that unions protect poor teachers. That’s true, but hardly an interesting point, since unions, quite by definition, represent all of their members – or else they are committing malpractice. But you don’t provide any evidence that the best teachers don’t get fired or harassed. Your argument is that since in your experience, unions protect many poor teachers, good teachers must not be getting fired or threatened. That’s logically fallacious and entirely unfounded.

    Liked by 1 person

      Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr. responded:
      September 7, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks for you commentary. My goal wasn’t to prove of disprove, it was to start a conversation… Which it did… But again thanks for the feedback!


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