Friday, November 12, 2010

Defending Teacher's Unions

I should admit my bias on teachers’ unions and education from the beginning.  I’m a member of the National Education Association, and – as you can tell from my conversation with Will Bagnola, president of the Youngstown Education Association (representing Youngstown City Schools teachers) – I generally respect teachers and unions alike.  Yes, I know that in enacting their responsibility to protect members, unions (of all kinds) can sometimes find themselves in the position of defending bad behavior.  And there’s no doubt that, as in any workplace, those who manage the operation always want to control how workers do their jobs and more labor for less reward.  Those problems are in the nature of the workplace; they are not caused by unions. 

Beyond my understanding of the nature of unions, I believe – as a teacher – that teachers understand education and should play more central roles in planning and implementing educational reforms.  Over the last few decades, with the growing influence of standardized tests as a measure of performance (of both students and teachers) and the increasing tendency to standardize both what is taught and how it is taught, we have fundamentally changed the nature of teaching.  K-12 teachers are no longer seen as responsible professionals worthy of public respect, and that shift occurred long before the latest wave of public policies and documentaries blaming teachers for America’s educational problems.  Indeed, I think many of the problems we’re facing now exist in part because we have deprofessionalized teaching, making it a less interesting, less rewarding, less creative job. 

I’ve heard good things about Dr. Connie Hathorn, the incoming superintendent of the local schools, including that he believes in treating teachers with respect.  With Will Bagnola, I hope that will help us create a more learning-centered atmosphere in the local schools. 

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