Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions.

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Why do I support teacher unions?

Because the quality of education is better. Yes it is. (note: I worked in a private boarding school for two years before moving to public schools). We want our students taught by teachers who focus on the students learning.

Without unions, teachers also have to worry about the following non-education worries:

  • Does this administrator like me? I’d like to think that all the administrators that I’ve worked for, 7 different people in my building over the past 5 years (not even counting higher ups), liked me and the job that I was doing. But teacher unions force the evaluation process to remain professional. Because humans are humans, and if any one person can derail you, then eventually, they will.
  • Am I being paid in a fair manner? Unions allow for teachers not to have to worry about fairness in compensation. I don’t need to worry about the teacher next to me getting a raise because the administrator’s kid is in their class (I’ve seen it happen in the private system). Say what you want about every teacher at every level at every subject matter making the same despite different qualifications (I would, but not today), the system is still better then the alternative.
  • Am I going to be fired because of a crazy parent? Yes they exist, and yes I’ve seen this happen in the private system. I’m not worried about a single biased observer affecting my livelihood.

I really could keep going, but instead, I’ll link to the excellent list of posts by other teachers on the same matter. http://edusolidarity.us/ Go there. Read. Straight from the horses (ouch) mouths. Follow #EDUSolidarity on Twitter.

5 thoughts on “Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions.

  1. The biggest problem I have with unionized systems ( and yes I work in one ) is that it rewards incompetence. The teacher who goes into class day after day and says “today I want you to read page 12 and answer the questions on page 13” gets paid the same as ( or even more than ) the teacher who spends hours preparing each class and is very effective. How is that fair?

    There has to be some way to reward hard working and competent teachers, and deal with incompetence for any system to be fair, and unionized systems generally don’t fall into this category.

    1. In an ideal world, absolutely some teachers should get paid more than others. Simple economics. Pay the scarce, talented teachers more; and pay the abundant less than average teachers less. One big problem though: how do you know who the best teachers are? How is that measured? Studies consistently show that there is very little correlation between “good” teachers and “bad” teachers.
      Are we selecting teachers who achieve high test scores but in the process the students hate the subject or don’t retain the material over the long run?
      Are we selecting teachers that the parents and students prefer but the results don’t match?
      Are we selecting teachers who try new things, but have poor test scores?
      Are we selecting teachers who do not work well with others, and are teaching on an “island”?

      I don’t see the measurement issue with teachers being easily “solved.” So how do you select teachers to pay them more?

      Even more so, say you can select the most competent teachers and pay them more. What happens in the workplace when the teachers are competing for money? Am I going to share my excellent and proven strategies with the other teachers? Why would I?

      Lastly as far as union goes, I’m not entirely convinced that without their presence, even the best teachers would be making the same as “incompetent” teachers are now. Unions are proven to raise compensation levels when they enter the game, who is to say that a teaching job would even be upper middle class like it is in NY right now? If it were up to the voters, I’d bet that in many districts, teachers would be paid the same as the average worker, who does not (on average) a high level of education.

      Thoughts?

  2. Your concerns about merit based pay are real and have been around for a long time. Did you know that it was a union leader, Albert Shanker, (President of UFT and AFT and one of the founders of the NY teacher’s union) that first came up with that idea? He was also bothered by incompetent teachers receiving the same protections as competent ones, and he worked to find fair ways to weed them out. However, he realized that the solution was not to throw the baby out with the bath water by removing protections and compensation from the competent teachers.

    I work in a state with out a union, and our pay works the same way, except we’re all paid a lot less. I think that means that unions are not the cause of the compensation system that we have. Further, research shows that more experienced teachers ARE (on average) more effective teachers, so paying teachers more based on years of experience does have some foundation in reality. It’s also just about the only concrete measure of effectiveness that we do have (like Dan said). Coming up with objective measures of effectiveness for teachers is a tremendous challenge, but certainly one we shouldn’t give up on. I think if we ever get that one figured out you will see many many fewer teachers object to merit based pay.

    IMO, the teacher who says read page 12 etc shouldn’t be teaching, and that’s a problem with the teacher evaluation system, not the teacher compensation system.

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