Friday, June 13, 2014

this is why

I've been mulling posting this for a whole day now. Other bloggers out there: do you sometimes feel like you're pushing buttons when you post controversial topics? Do you just do it anyways? Does the blog sit in draft in your Blogger dashboard? The thing is, I can't not be myself or not share my opinions. So I guess it's time to click the publish button...

I taught in Arizona for six years. We had a "union" there. I paid my dues, but it didn't really stand for much. The spring of 2009 was my last year there, and that same year, the board of education in the district I worked for extended the school day (without increasing pay to teachers) on it's own behalf. There were no negotiations, there was no asking input from teachers. Just done and done.

At the time, and even over the course of the last five years, I've often thought that tenure didn't matter. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is come off as arrogant (and that is not my intention here), but I am an effective teacher who *loves* her job. I am reflective in my practice and always strive for my best. Because of that, I never really thought tenure was any big deal. To me, if you did your job well, tenure would naturally follow. But then I began to read more about all the corporate reformers and about how some people want to do education cheaper, which might mean letting go of experienced master teachers and their hefty salaries (I can't believe I'd call my salary hefty!) so newbie teachers could be hired in their place at a much better rate.

These thoughts come on the heels of the Vergara v. California  where judge Treu ruled that teacher tenure is unconstitutional because it causes students to have a poor quality of education (especially students who are low income and of minority status). 

Then this happened yesterday in USA Today:

Yes, that's a child in the trash can.
The advertisement says: "Sue. Unions are protecting incompetent teachers by keeping them in the classroom. This week, a California court ruled that protection of incompetent teachers is unconstitutional. Can't change the laws to protect kids? Then sue. It worked in California."

Let's get a few things straight about tenure:

First, tenure doesn't give teachers a job for life. It gives us due process so we can't be fired for some random reason and be fired without even so much as a conversation about why. Take for example, a teacher I heard about from a colleague: works at a charter school and was let go because, "the school is going in a different direction."

Because this teacher works for a charter school whose teachers do not belong to a union, the school doesn't even owe her explanation. I doubt that they offered professional development or coaching to help her improve her practice. They didn't even have to explicitly state why they were firing her. They could just let her go and be on to the next.

In a school that is backed by a union, that would never happen. Due process would mandate that a teacher who was ineffective receive coaching to assist in improvement of practice. Time would be allotted for development of essential skills with coaching and feedback. And only at the end of all of that would the teacher be let go - if that teacher had not made adequate growth, then s/he would not return the following school year.

But being a part of a union is much, much more than that. I feel that I have my freedom of speech protected because of the union I am a part of.

When I taught middle school, I loved teaching a social justice unit with my students (this was built off of Freire's work). Essentially, we were studying groups who had power and how to change systems when other groups were marginalized. With union protections, I don't have to worry about whether or not my lessons went against what someone in admin thought. Have you every heard about the Mexican-American Studies ban in Tucson, Arizona a few years back? (Seems like it may be reinstated just this past school year...) Teachers wanted to teach relevant material to their students that was culturally responsive. But, the admin didn't think those studies were aligned with the "American way of life." Those teachers (who didn't have union protections) were fired and a law was passed so that those studies couldn't be taught further. How can we deny students knowledge of their culture because it isn't in line with someone's belief of what constitutes the American way of life?

Another: The fact that I sit writing this blog with the intention of publishing it to my network...the only reason I feel comfortable doing so is because of my union. My tenure allows for my free speech without repercussions. I can write and not worry that I may lose my job for respectfully voicing my opinions. Teachers in other states where there is little or no union support may not feel safe in a similar position. I can't imagine not being able to talk freely about my beliefs!

And the what's most important: our students. I can advocate for the best interest of kids that I see each day in my building. Running a school isn't cheap and state and federal governments are constantly slashing our budgets. As a teacher with union protection, I don't ever have to worry about asking for money for materials to best meet the needs of the students at my school. I don't have to worry about disagreeing best practice on a topic/philosophy/ curriculum choice with a colleague for fear that my job might be on the line. (See a great source here about difference in opinion and tenure.) A teacher's freedom of speech is protected by their union, which also means, if a special education teacher has a child with special needs on their case load, they don't have to feel uncomfortable asking for whatever accommodations that child needs (regardless of how inconvenient or expensive it may be for the district). I can't imagine trying to work without those kinds of protections. I can't see how teachers would feel safe to speak authentically on behalf of their students if they were not backed by a union.

A union gives the teachers a voice to the administration of the school district. Currently, our school district is negotiating our new contract with the teacher's union. The administration can't just have the teachers be at their will with any decision they make - there has to be compromise among both sides.

I just don't understand why people think tenure makes teachers bad or lazy. Are there ineffective teachers out there? Yes! Is that a causation of tenure? I think not! Pretty ironic how the highest performing state on the NAEP (Massachusetts) has a strong union while the lowest performing state (Mississippi) has no union support (source). The ruling in Vergara v. California would suggest the opposite to be true....

It's because of all of this (and lots more reasons) that I am taking on a new title next year - I'll be Emerson's Union Representative, and I couldn't be happier or more proud to do so. I believe in public education and I believe that teacher's unions want to protect high-quality instruction, not ineffective teachers. The fact that I have tenure allows me to be a great teacher and an advocate for kids...

Kids just like these third graders:

and these kinders:

and these soon-to-be middle schoolers:

and some amazing cheerleaders:

 and volleyball players:

and a homeroom that I still love to pieces:

Teacher tenure allows me to be at my best on behalf of my most important clients: my students.

If you want to stay more in the know of all that is going down with the corporate reformsters, check out the Badass Teacher's Association on Facebook and Twitter. Diane Ravitch also shares lots of info daily on her blog. 

That is all.

1 comment:

  1. Yes!!!!! Thank you for setting the story straight with teacher tenure. There is so much incorrect information floating around and we need to stand up and set the record straight.


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