What do you think of teachers’ unions?

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Teacher unions reinforce [a group] mentality. In the early years of factory-designed schools, unions proved important and beneficial, because collective bargaining allowed teachers to advocate for decent wages and working conditions (still a fight for some) and protection from unfair dismissals. But unions have infringed into the business of education, and as a result, have often become a stumbling block for change and innovation. Their role has grown not only in negotiating salaries and benefits, which should be its primary purpose, but also in determining schedules, workloads, job descriptions, and teaching hours.

The union mindset focuses on the security and protection of the group. The practice of harboring less competent members is particularly insidious. I first understood this practice early in my career when an art teacher, who everyone knew was inadequate, garnered public support from the union when the school board held a public hearing to question his competency. Only one staff member was willing to testify in support of dismissal. Nearly as insidious, especially for students, is the reluctance of unions to support innovations unless specified in the teacher contract. Given that most contracts are negotiated for multiple years, they become roadblocks for change. “If it is not in the contract,” the argument states, “we cannot and will not consider it until we renegotiate.”

In some districts the union hierarchy exerts a stranglehold on its membership. When anyone attempts to act outside the contract, the hierarchy invokes the crabs-in-the-cage principle. We all have heard examples of union officials chastising members for wanting to paint their own classrooms (even when maintenance refuses) or for arranging to hold parent conferences outside specified contract times. We know, too, of districts in which union leadership manages to stay in office for years and enacts frequent grievance procedures to block any and all proposals for changing instructional practice. In some districts, past presidents maintain control years beyond their time in office.

Chicago Teacher's Union Votes To End Strike

If unions go, what will teachers need?

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 12 “Abandon the Crabs in the Cage” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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