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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