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October 28, 2010


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As a voter who keeps her politics private, I would be unhappy with any union I was required to join that used my dues to play politics. I've watched it happen all my life; teacher's unions spend a lot of money on protecting the union itself, but not so much on what is good for teachers, students, and the educational system.
Experience with a bad teacher? Yes.
Experience with great teachers? Yes.
Union rhetoric? Yes, I've heard plenty -- in person, from someone who is fairly high level union.


I had an awful teacher in 8th grade, for math. He was so bad he really ruined math for me for a long time. He did get relieved of his duties after that year, having had a "nervous breakdown" so they said. I guess you could call slamming a kid he was angry with into a locker in the hall a nervous breakdown. But the good news is I have had more good and great teachers than bad. And now I have to think about this ALL OVER AGAIN now that I am a mom. Yay.

green girl in wisconsin

I agree 100% with both points. Unfortunately, schools have become very territorial, people making alliances to protect themselves and their "turf." This erodes a lot of the positive work teachers and schools do.


I agree with the notion that teachers need to be evaluated. There is, however, no one way to do this. I think it should be somehow based on the school and the grade level. My husband teaches math at a high school that has a pretty high gang population. Fortunately, there is only one gang, so there is not much fighting. But these are grades 9-12 and they don't know their times tables, let alone anything to do with algebra or geometry. And they are not interested in learning at this point. Their parents are uninvolved, trying merely to make ends meet. He only has those kids for 95 minutes a day, 6 weeks at a time. How do you propose to gauge his teaching?

Then, to top it all off, he has been told at the beginning of each school year for several years running, that he will be evaluated that year. Current evaluation requirements are that the evaluator will visit his classes three (I think) times. In the past 5 years, I think he has had 2 visits.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I guess I just needed to vent. Thanks for providing the forum.

busy bee suz

I had a few bad teachers as a student myself.
My kids have had a few 'loony' teachers...some have been let go, but of course after the damage was already done.
I DO agree with you on the bullet points.
How to do it though? I have not a clue.


I agree with you, but as with some other commenters, wonder who should do the evaluating. Other teachers in the district, the principal, the parents, the students? I'm not sure. When I taught preschool, the 3 of us who were a team in the room, decided on our own to give forms out to the parents, asking them to rate our performance, give suggestions, etc. I have to say that it was very interesting and somewhat eye opening.

gary rith

I went to grad school and then got a teaching cert and found I could not be hired in public schools, because of the pay ladders. A new teacher who has already gone to grad school OR who has 3 plus years teaching experience has no chance getting a new job at a public school. They are simply considered too expensive. SO, I taught in private schools, where there were a LOT of very smart and experienced teachers being rewarded for their contribution. Unions need to learn to be a little more flexible or they will become dinosaurs.


it is difficult to devise a fair and objective system to evaluate teachers. Probably some kind of combination of survey/feedback plus objective score-based data plus peer review - would be the most accurate, but it sounds very expensive to administer consistently and tabulated the results, and - further - track the results over a teacher's career.

And yes, as janet pointed out, a student's progress is the result of so many factors that are not under the teacher's control.

As for union money and rhetoric - first, NONE of members' dues go to political activities. Unions that support political candidates must do so through PACS, and it is illegal to use funds the actual union treasuries. PACs are funded by voluntary donations, not dues. A union may pay for some administrative costs associated with the PAC, but cannot use funds for direct contributions. All financial activities must be disclosed, as well.

While I certainly understand how a person might not want to support political activities, the comparison between unions' political funding and corporate and private group political funding is like comparing apples and oranges.

Also - the notion that unions spend a lot of time protecting members - that's a union's job. Unions are obligated under the law that governs them to represent workers, and they can be held liable if they do not represent all of their workers equitably. Grievances and contract issues are legal issues - unions are required to enforce them and follow due process. If they do not, they can be decertified or dissolved. Sometimes it may seem to an outside observer that a union is protecting a bad workers, but they have to follow the rules under Federal Labor Law.

I have seen many a situation where an employer - school district other otherwise -tries to deal with a "bad" employee in a way that violates the employee's rights under a contract. Unions are obliged to protect that employee - they can't just say, "Well, he's a lousy teacher so we won't defend him."

[off my hobby horse now]

only a movie

The union in our district is looking into a peer-evaluation model. I would prefer that to administrator evaluation.
I haven't (ever) had a meaningful evaluation as a public school educator. When I worked for a non-profit agency, supervision and evaluation were significant, productive procedures...



Just quickly in response to "g", I agree with some of what you say in defense of Jenn's first point. However, speaking as a former high school English teacher albeit in Canada not the US, in my experience, teachers guilty of various infractions are not usually asked to leave the profession. The most egregious cases and ones that hit the media often are, but generally, teachers are found "not guilty" on technicalities (for lack of a better term as I type this quickly) and are either reinstated or placed at different schools to become someone else's problem.


I agree that teachers need to be evaluated. There are always some that need a lot more improvement than others. ;) I read that the movie raises "charter schools" as the best answer (I haven't seen the movie). As a parent of a child in a charter school, I know there are a lot of negatives there as well. And as an educator, I've seen kids come from charter schools into more traditional schools and finally get the support that they had been lacking in their previous school.


I'm a CTA member myself. Personally, I think our union is necessary, but it needs "reform" worse than the school system does. The union gets into too many political arenas that have zero to do with education, supporting viewpoints that many members disagree strongly with, all with about a thousand dollars a year taken from our paycheck, whether we want to belong to the union or not. Also my local has hung newer teachers out to dry with the current layoff situation, choosing to fight for perks for the older teachers (the ones that make up the bargaining team) over the wishes of the union as a whole.

We need a strong union so that teachers are in a position to fight for their (and their students') rights, but our union pretty much sucks most of the time right now.


Interesting topic. My experience has been with parochial schools – no unions. Still good and bad teachers, but it is easier to get rid of the bad.


This problem is so complex. I'm in a situation now where I pulled my kids out of our home district, and I drive them to school each morning, and leave work early to pick them up. They struggled at our home district schools, and once they reached 9th grade, I knew I couldn't accept the substandard teaching any longer. The difference is night and day, but it requires a lot of sacrifice on my part. I can't blame the union entirely, the parents hold a great deal of responsibility, but many of them were undereducated, so their children's schooling isn't a priority. The only certainty is that there are no easy answers.

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