Stories & Grievances
The New York Times Reports That "Teachers Wonder, Why The Scorn?"
From Betsy Combier: I dont think this is the question teachers are asking. The question is: "When will the media stop playing into the politics of rich administrators, anti-union activists and others who want to downplay the difficult and challenging job of teaching to remove collective bargaining and tenure rights from experienced senior teachers and public school personnel?" Experience counts, says Chris Saulnier, President of the Acushnet Teachers Association.
Your view: Teacher tenure and seniority get bum rap
By CHRIS SAULNIER
Chris Saulnier is president of the Acushnet Teachers Association, on the Massachusetts Teachers Association Board of Directors - District 40E (New Bedford, Acushnet, Dartmouth), and teaches eighth grade science at Ford Middle School.
South Coast Today, March 05, 2011 12:00 AM
Tenure is the single most misunderstood aspect of a teacher's career. I have constantly been attacked because of this — at the supermarket, at weddings, at weekend getaways.
What people think:
1. Teachers can never be fired.
2. Any teacher who has been there for more than 10 years is a bad teacher and needs to go, but union thugs protect them and this hurts our kids.
3. New is always better than old.
1. Teachers can be fired.
When you are first hired as a teacher, the administration can walk into your room at any point in the first 90 days and ask you to never come back.
During your first three years, you are considered non-PTS (professional teacher status). At the end of each of those years, regardless of good evaluations, you can be let go. If the administration decides that you are not a good fit for the school, you pack your bags and move on.
After your third year, you gain professional teacher status. What this ensures is that an administrator has to What this ensures is that an administrator has to have just cause to remove a teacher.
Just cause can be anything from poor performance based on several evaluations all the way to criminal activity. The union is there to make sure that the rules are followed and that the cause is actually just, but if done correctly by the administration, the teacher goes.
A teacher has to maintain their certification.
This is done by continuously taking classes, workshops, and seminars throughout their career.
If a teacher allows this certification to lapse, he or she can be removed from the classroom and replaced with a certified teacher. If there is no certified teacher available, a waiver may be granted, but this does not ensure that teacher with a job in the future.
2. With age comes wisdom and knowledge.
I have seen teachers in their 60s who still have passion for what they do. They believe in their students, maintain high standards, and get the best they can out of everyone. "Burnout" is not a common as is perceived and usually happens earlier in a career rather than later.
Veteran teachers serve as mentors, team leaders, and work on committees to improve the schools. They are an inspiration, a shoulder to cry on, and motivation to keep going even in the darkest times. They've seen it all 10 times over and know that it eventually gets better.
3. New teachers struggle, too.
A new teacher coming in has very little, if any, experience in a classroom outside of student teaching. It is much different when you're put in a room alone.
New teachers often have issues with classroom control and discipline. They haven't developed the skills yet and don't have the "tool box" to deal with every situation.
A teacher's tool box includes the tricks and tips that you learn over the years to deal with difficult students and classes. They are what works for you — everyone's tool box is different and it comes with experience.
New teachers are also developing their own curriculum and lesson plans. This takes hours of hard work, and the plan might not be successful at all.
So, what should you do? Go back and fix it, right? But what about tomorrow's lesson? It took me three years to be comfortable with who I was as a teacher and what was going to work in my classroom. In fact, my first year, I was only a chapter ahead of my students.
If you ask most teachers to be honest, they'll probably admit to that as well.
True, new teachers are well versed in the latest theories of child brain development and fancy classroom practices, but you learn quickly that the real world is not like the college classroom.
Students don't know that your lesson was supposed to work; they just know that you're stupid and they shouldn't have to try anything new because they don't like it.
There is a role for seniority in education. Our veteran teachers should be respected for their wisdom and experience instead of vilified because of their endurance.
March 2, 2011
Teachers Wonder, Why the Scorn?
By TRIP GABRIEL, NY Times
The jabs Erin Parker has heard about her job have stunned her. Oh you pathetic teachers, read the online comments and placards of counterdemonstrators. You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.
“You feel punched in the stomach,” said Ms. Parker, a high school science teacher in Madison, Wis., where public employees’ two-week occupation of the State Capitol has stalled but not deterred the governor’s plan to try to strip them of bargaining rights.
Ms. Parker, a second-year teacher making $36,000, fears that under the proposed legislation class sizes would rise and higher contributions to her benefits would knock her out of the middle class.
“I love teaching, but I have $26,000 of student debt,” she said. “I’m 30 years old, and I can’t save up enough for a down payment” for a house. Nor does she own a car. She is making plans to move to Colorado, where she could afford to keep teaching by living with her parents.
Around the country, many teachers see demands to cut their income, benefits and say in how schools are run through collective bargaining as attacks not just on their livelihoods, but on their value to society.
Even in a country that is of two minds about teachers — Americans glowingly recall the ones who changed their lives, but think the job with its summers off is cushy — education experts say teachers have rarely been the targets of such scorn from politicians and voters.
Republican lawmakers in half a dozen states are pressing to unwind tenure and seniority protections in place for more than 50 years. Gov. Chris Christie’s dressing down of New Jersey teachers in town-hall-style meetings, accusing them of greed, has touched a populist vein and made him a national star.
Mayors are threatening mass layoffs, including in New York City and in Providence, R.I., where all 1,926 teachers were told last week they would lose their jobs — a largely symbolic gesture since most will be hired back.
Some experts question whether teaching, with its already high attrition rate — more than 25 percent leave in the first three years — will attract high-quality recruits in the future.
“It’s hard to feel good about yourself when your governor and other people are telling you you’re doing a lousy job,” said Steve Derion, 32, who teaches American history in Manahawkin, N.J. “I’m sure there were worse times to be a teacher in our history — I know they had very little rights — but it feels like we’re going back toward that direction.”
Those pressing for teachers’ concessions insist the changes will improve schools.
“This is in no way, shape or form an attack on teachers; it is a comprehensive effort to reform a system,” said Tony Bennett, the superintendent of public instruction in Indiana, where demonstrators have also besieged the Capitol in opposition to bills supported by Dr. Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican. The legislation would limit teachers’ collective bargaining to pay and benefits and allow principals to set class sizes and school hours and to lay off teachers based on job performance, not years of service.
Dr. Bennett said the state teachers’ union had distorted the legislation to create fear.
There are signs of a backlash in favor of teachers. A New York Times poll taken last week found that by nearly two to one — 60 to 33 percent — Americans opposed restricting collective bargaining for public employees. A similar majority — including more than half of Republicans — said the salaries and benefits of most public employees were “about right” or “too low.”
As for teachers’ mood, an annual poll sponsored by the MetLife Foundation found in 2009, before this year’s blast of opprobrium, that 59 percent were “very satisfied,” up from 40 percent in 1984. In interviews this week, even teachers facing layoffs or pay cuts said they felt a calling to be in the classroom.
“I put my heart and soul into teaching,” said Lindsay Vlachakis, 25, a high school math teacher in Madison. “When people attack teachers, they’re attacking me.”
Although crushing state budget deficits are the proximate cause of lawmakers’ pressure, a further justification for many of the proposed measures comes from the broad accountability movement, which aims to raise student achievement and sees teachers’ unions as often blocking the way.
Accountability, particularly as measured by student test scores, has brought sweeping changes to education and promises more, but many teachers feel the changes are imposed with scant input from classroom-level educators. Nearly 70 percent said in the MetLife survey that their voices were not heard in education debates.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education policy group, said the decline in teachers’ status traced to the success of unions in paying teachers and granting job security based on their years of service, not ability.
“They are reaping a bitter harvest that they didn’t individually plant but their profession has planted over 50 years, going from a respected profession to a mass work force in which everyone is treated as if they are interchangeable, as in the steel mills of yesteryear,” Mr. Finn said.
Those who oppose the gathering momentum to evaluate teachers based in significant part on student test scores argue that it will drive good teachers from the neediest schools.
Anthony Cody, who taught middle-school science for 18 years and now mentors new teachers in the Oakland, Calif., school district, said many leave at the three-year mark for higher salaries and easier conditions elsewhere.
Oakland has many poor students and schools at the bottom on standardized tests — schools the federal Education Department identifies as candidates to be sweepingly overhauled by removing half their staffs.
“What we need in these schools is stability,” said Mr. Cody, 52, who writes a blog about teaching. “We need to convince people that if they invest their career in working with these challenging students, then we will reward them and appreciate them. We will not subject them to arbitrary humiliation in the newspaper. We will not require they be evaluated and paid based on test scores that often fluctuate greatly beyond the teacher’s control.”
Mr. Cody acknowledged that many of his younger colleagues, who have come of age in the era of test scores used to gauge progress and accountability — first for schools, and now increasingly for teachers — are not as resistant to the concept.
“I’m not too concerned or worried about that,” said Kevin Tougher, 31, who teaches third grade in Lake Grove, N.Y., where a new statewide evaluation system will rate teachers based 40 percent on their students’ test scores or comparable measures.
Last month Mr. Tougher was notified that because of his lack of seniority, he will be laid off, or “excessed,” this year under the state’s proposed cuts to school aid. A union activist, he believes seniority-based layoffs are fair.
“The seniority part, I get that,” said Mr. Tougher, who is single. “While it would be a bummer if I were excessed for next year, that’s just how things go sometimes.”
March 2, 2011
Ohio Senate Approves Union Bill
By SABRINA TAVERNISE, NY Times
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio took its first step Wednesday toward passing sweeping legislation that would curtail collective bargaining rights for public sector workers by banning strikes and putting the power of breaking labor impasses in the hands of local elected officials.
Amid boos and shouts of “shame on you,” the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate voted 17 to 16 for the bill, with 6 Republicans voting against it.
The bill is expected to be passed next week in the House and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, who issued a statement applauding the Senate vote. Democratic lawmakers said they would take it to a ballot referendum this fall.
Unions call the bill the biggest blow to public sector workers since the legal framework was put in place to protect them in 1983. Republican lawmakers argued that it was required in order to keep financially pressed local governments solvent.
“This is the first big step in restoring fiscal responsibility in Ohio,” said Kevin Bacon, a Republican senator.
The battle in Ohio has unfolded over the past month along with similar confrontations in Wisconsin and Indiana. Unlike in the other states, where Democrats are needed for a quorum, in Ohio, Republicans make a quorum on their own.
In Wisconsin, a standoff over legislation that would cut collective bargaining rights for public employees intensified. Democrats in the State Senate, who left Wisconsin last month to prevent a vote from taking place, learned that the Republicans left behind were taking steps to start fining missing lawmakers $100 for each day they stay away.
Though some of the Democrats and Republicans met early in the week, it was clear by Wednesday that the sides were farther apart than ever. And each side suggested that the other caucus appeared to be fracturing under the tension. From an undisclosed location in Illinois, Mark Miller, a leader of the Senate Democrats, issued a statement accusing the Republicans of “schoolyard bully tactics.” Scott Fitzgerald, leader of the Senate Republicans, then issued his own and reminded the Democrats of Gov. Scott Walker’s warnings that some 1,500 state workers might be laid off soon if the lawmakers did not act on the bill.
In Ohio, Nina Turner, a Senate Democrat, said, “This bill seeks to vilify our public employees and turn what used to be the virtue of public service into a crime.” At its heart, the bill redraws rules governing how several hundred thousand public-sector workers bargain with the governments that employ them. Among the most objectionable parts, workers said, are the rules giving local officials the final say in breaking labor impasses. Currently, non-elected, third parties decide.
Shannon Jones, the senator who sponsored the bill, argued that elected bodies, like city councils, were responsible for appropriating taxpayer money and so should ultimately decide disputes involving it, an argument that Democrats and even some Republican rejected.
“The elected representatives have the responsibility to oversee the services that people elected them to provide,” she said.
Republican senators who voted against the bill said many of its proposals were badly needed, but that it ultimately went too far, erasing too many rights for public-sector workers in a way that risks its repeal in a ballot referendum later.
One such senator, Bill Seitz, argued that the new rule was unfair because it placed the power to decide in the hands of city councils who would always take the side of local managers. His proposal to use judges, who are elected in Ohio and would be more neutral, was rejected.
“It’s like a husband and wife going to negotiate and it doesn’t work, so the wife gets everything she wants,” he said. “Who would go for that?”
Tim Grendell, another Republican who voted against the bill, argued that it was elected bodies that were largely responsible for the country’s current budget mess.
“The people we want to entrust the genie of the future to are those who created the morass of problems we are trying to solve,” he said. “That’s schizophrenic thinking.”
City administrators said they thought the law, which was amended over the weekend, had been softened in favor of public-sector workers, because it preserves the right to collective bargaining. Mike Bell, the mayor of Toledo, said the law would help ailing local governments “push a reset switch” when they have nothing left to offer at the bargaining table.
“Most contracts are silent on what to do when you can’t afford to pay your employees,” he said.
But the bill also bans the right to strike for all public-sector workers, an option currently forbidden only for emergency workers. Dissenting Republican senators said the stipulation made the right to collective bargaining that the bill ultimately preserved, purely cosmetic.
“Without having something to lose, collective bargaining is not bargaining, it’s just a conversation,” Mr. Grendell said.
Lawmakers who supported the bill said it would allow government to function more like the private sector, with the flexibility to have more control over its operating costs. But its opponents argued that the private sector had slashed older workers, something the new bill was in danger of allowing.
“Who says the private sector has the golden standard on what it means to treat folks?” Senator Turner said.
Monica Davey contributed reporting from Chicago.