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November 23, 2010


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green girl in wisconsin

Have not seen it, but you delineate some of my biggest problems with the teachers' unions. As a former English teacher, I resented the way all jobs were treated the same (fair) under union agreements. So as a college comp teacher, my class sizes were the same as a phy ed teacher (30 kids) and we had the same amount of prep time, too--although I know for a fact a phy ed teacher doesn't do a FRACTION of the grading expected of an English teacher. Oh, my union complaints could go on and on!

apathy lounge

My issue with teacher's unions is double-edged. I've seen firsthand how they have assisted excellent teachers in a fighting unfair administrative decisions regading pay, paperword, etc. That said, I also know that they work to keep (unknowingly) substandard teachers in the system. The art teacher in our building has TWO planning periods. TWO!!! She does absolutely nothing. She is not held responsible for test grades or for documentation of intervention programs for academics. She doesnt' have papers to grade or forms to fill out. She goes home at the stroke of 3:15 every day and she never has to spend weekends doing lesson planning. She doesn't have to tutor or provide modification for her lessons. She doesn't have to have parent conferences and no one cares if she shows up for Open House. Classroom content teachers are burning the candle at both ends and all we get is 45 minutes (40 in reality, since we are relieved by the teachers who take our kids to art, music or PE). There's barely time to hit the bathroom, return an urgent call from your son in college and make a few copies of the next day's homework on the copier. I'm one of the first ones in the building every day (7am) and I rarely leave until 5. It's completely unfair.

apathy lounge

I meant "doesn't". Sorry.


You have such a way with words! I agree with everything you wrote 100% --great analysis. :-) Looking forward to our further discussion.


I still have not seen it. Our staff was leary of it, but once my principal and many of our teachers saw the film, they all had very good things to say about it. We are a California Distinguished School and National Blue Ribbon school...and everyone said it hit the nail right on the head.

Now why exactly haven't I seen it yet? Not sure!


The clips I have seen fit right in with what you have written on this documentary.


I have to say that it always amazes me when people make statements such as "unions protect bad teachers." The scenario described above by apathy lounge does not show that the union protected this teacher - rather it shows the ineptness of the administration.

Teachers unions do not have anything to do with the firing of teachers. That is the job of administration - something that very few administrators and/or district offices ever seem to acknowledge, only too willing to allow the unions to take the hit.

What do unions do? They ensure that due process rights of teachers are protected. This means, for instance as in my district, a teacher who has received unsatisfactory evaluations two years in row, still has rights that need to be protected. The District has missed timelines and other requirements as outlined in our contract. When I (union president of my local) pointed out to the District that this teacher needed to be let go and they should make sure that to follow the timlines (timelines I pointed out to them to make sure the process could be started), they failed to do ANYTHING AT ALL! Not only that they have given this teacher a combo class of 3rd/4th graders. Combo classes are notoriously difficult to teach and it is well known that in 3rd grade across the state of Calfiornia, test scores dip. So yeah, let's ignore contractual language again (language that we pushed hard in getting in our last contract) which states that a teacher who has received an unsatisfactory evaluation is not given a combo class. This particular section also states that ONLY permanent status teachers should be given combo classes because the District is also notorious in giving these classes to probationary teachers.

I've lots of issues with this particular movie, however, I've also not seen it. The main problem I have is the implication that charter schools are somehow better (even though only 17% of charter schools outperform public schools) and the film maker has been unwilling to acknowledge the enormous amount of private foundation money that has been used to run the Harlem Children's Zone.

Additionally, the most successful school system that is often touted is that of Finland. Guess what? Finland is 100% unionized! The difference is that instead of bashing teachers, good or bad, Finland has moved away from test based accountability and has moved towards supporting ALL of their teachers to become better.

In the United States, many states are what is called "right to work" states, which means that their "unions" are very weak and/or non-existent. If unions are truly the problem, why aren't their students outperforming those in strong union states?

Lest anyone think that I'm ill-informed or should not comment on this movie until seeing, first know that I do a lot reading across the spectrum on educational issues. I was willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt until those in the educational community, people that I deeply admire & respect, had seen the movie. I've read & linked to more than twenty articles that come to the same conclusion.

WfS does not appear to be a teacher friendly movie. As one who has worked in the one of the toughest districts for a decade, I know first hand how more & more has been asked of the teachers I represent, while they get paid less & less. The model that WfS and its supporters seem to be endorsing is one in which inexperience trumps experience & those at the top (many without real education experience behind them) know what is best.

At some point I will see the movie, but I would encourage everyone who has posted to do some additional reading. I would like first to suggest Diane Ravitch's excellent commentary on this movie: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/

Second, the funding behind this movie & why this matters:

Finally, this from WaPo's Valerie Strauss:

Busy Bee Suz

I have not seen it yet Jenn, but plan on seeing it when it comes out on DVD.
Love your review.


I haven't seen it, but I would like to. One question, why is it called "Waiting for Superman"? Since I haven't seen it, I could be reading it all wrong, but the title bothers me, considering what happened to Christopher Reeve.
I completely agree that bad teachers (those found by numerous people to be bad of course) should be fired. How long they have been around shouldn't matter. It doesn't in any other field. Sometimes teachers just get completely burnt out, and should not be working with children anymore for their sake or the sake of the kids.

Jenn @ Juggling Life

I found the Washington Post article to be the one that most closely aligned with what I took from the movie.

As I said, there is plenty of blame to go around for whats wrong with education today and the film touched on a piece of the puzzle by using a powerful narrative device.

The bottom line for me though, as someone visiting a lot of schools as a substitute teacher, is that we are in a dire place. Its a place that is not only an educational issue, but also a societal one (yes, money matters).

I will be interested to see how my opinion changes once Im inside the union, but right now Im leaning toward the viewpoint that tenure damages the profession. There is always a place for some due process, but I think the current process might is too time-consuming an onerous now as I understand it. I would not be an advocate of doing away with unions, but I think some parts of the contract needed to be changed.

I dont think teachers can do everything, but good teachers do change lives and bad teachers damage lives--and I am seeing some truly horrendous teaching out there.

I really do hope you let  me know what you think when you see the movie.


Is there evidence supporting ms. teacher's assertion that non-union states do not outperform union states? I'd love to see it - I have a friend who is very anti-teacher's unions.


I have not seen it yet but I bought the book for my son who plans to teach, as you and I have discussed, Social Justice and Policy in Education. I hope that the fact that a new generation is going into teaching with that kind of subject matter in mind will really help change the way the system is run.

phd in yogurtry

I am even more interested in seeing this documentary now that our city has adopted a lottery system for transfers. And yes, a bad teacher can make the difference between a kid who sticks with education and a kid who gives up - for life.


loved the comments & the great discussion! All done respectfully & without name calling. Now if only the rest of the country could follow our example!


Mrs. Teacher is right - firing a bad employee is the employer's job, not the union's job. Unions are obligated under law to represent all their members and represented workers equally. They can't pick and choose to defend one worker and not defend another simply because of non-specific subjective feelings (like whether they are a "good" or "bad" teacher).

I'm not speaking from the point of view of a teacher - I am not one and don't work in schools. I am speaking from the point of view of a union member and former union official. Employers have the right to set rules, they have the right to evaluate employees' performance on the job. These things are outside the perview of the union's contract. Many employers fail to enforce their rules equitably, and many fail to evaluate performance accurately. Many fail to evaluate at all.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen positive performance evaluations filed for employees who are barely worth the oxygen they consume. But it's the employer who is responsible for filing those inaccurate evals.

It is difficult for an employer to get rid of an employee without a record showing how that employee doesn't measure up. It's the employer's responsibiltiy to build and maintain those records, to set goals and enforce them. It's a union's responsiblity to defend a worker who is dismissed without documented reasons.

only a movie

Haven't had a chance to see that movie, or any movie... because I'm spending much of my spare time on lesson plans, IEPS, parent meetings, and finishing a master's degree.

I have to agree with above commenter on the unequal distribution of duties. I have zero prep time. I've seen other teachers in our district doing the daily crossword during their prep periods. A little bit infuriating.

Happy holiday all...

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