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Do you think teacher's unions help or hinder public education? What evidence supports...

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ebbie479 | Elementary School Teacher | Honors

Posted November 21, 2008 at 8:17 AM via web

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Do you think teacher's unions help or hinder public education? What evidence supports your opinion?

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renkins44 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:58 PM (Answer #2)

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Teacher's unions only hurt those who education are intended for -- the kids. Tenure and teacher's unions protects poor teachers and does not reward good teachers. Unlike almost every other organization in a capitalist society, teachers in the United States are not compensated for exceptional work and poor teachers continue to get paid as long as they do the minimum.

I understand that we don't get into teaching for the money. However, money motivates people to do well and attracts the best candidates. Those highly motivated and best educated take their careers to a place that will allow them to live a life aobve lower middle class for the first ten years of their profession.

Teachers may be afraid that if teachers unions go they lose their protection. So what! Educational policy should not be legislated with the teachers' primary interest in mind. Moreover, the potential to get fired if you don't do a good job (like any other successful business in the United States) is what spurs competition among faculty, ultimately resulting in teacher's expending as much effort as possible to create and execute a successful lesson. 

The only people afraid of losing teachers' unions are those who do not feel secure in their job. Some may sight that they may unjustly be fired. However, just as the real work place, there would need to be documented tracking of a teacher's poor performance in order for a school to fire without the threat of litigation.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:58 PM (Answer #3)

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Certainly, there is a positive and negative side to this question.  However, having come from a state that has a real union to one in which there is merely an association, the importance of a union has been manifest on multiple occasions.  Yes, some teachers attain tenure and remain although they are poor teachers.  But, it is not because of the tenure law; the reason they remain is because of their administration to whom they are sycophants, relatives, etc.  Or, it is due to the indolence of an administrator who will not document and pursue the avenues necessary to removing such a teacher.  On the other hand, without tenure, many qualified teachers who have standards--unlike certain administrators who feel they must politic and appease parents--would have lost their jobs simply because they were not in favor.  Also, harrassment of several kinds goes on in states that do not have a veritable union or fair practices law.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:58 PM (Answer #4)

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I have taught in situations where there is no union at a charter school in The Villages, Florida, where a stong union exists, and where there is an association or "loose" version of a union.  When there is no union at all, teachers are the victims of lazy students, their affluent parents, and derriere-kissing administration--too often excellent teachers were fired without cause simply because the kids didn't want to work and felt they were above it all.  Bonuses were given only to those teachers who "partied" with the principal--no, thank you.  I actually had a student tell me he would get me fired because I expected too much of them.  What does that do to teacher morale, and what lessons are the kids learning? Of course, the principal for whom I worked is no longer there...something about those lazy kids not getting accepted to their Ivy-league schools.  Go figure.

Strong unions do protect poor teachers.  In some cases, they also support "merit pay" for teachers which I don't support.  At any given moment, I work hard to help my students progress but one bad test day or a vindictive student could intentionally sabotage results which in turn affect my earning potential.  I teach because I love it, but I have to feed my family as well.

This is a tangled web.  Like the welfare system, unions were created with good intentions, but none of it is perfect. 

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renkins44 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:58 PM (Answer #5)

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No system implemented could be perfect. If there is a child or a group of children who aim to sabotage a teacher, then the teacher is equally responsible to document any threats and report them.

Merit pay does not have to be based on test scores, although some consideration should be given to that element. It can be more focused on observation assessments. If the teacher feels as though they are not considered for bonus pay based on relationships with the administration, then, like any other company, there is a level of litigation that can be pursued.

The overall of quality of education in the United States is horrible and especially alarming when compared to other nations of significantly less wealth. Of course, we are dealing with a generation that reads less than any other since Europeans began emigrating to the U.S. Clearly, the problem is systemic. Nonetheless, changing education needs to start in the classroom.

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renkins44 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:58 PM (Answer #6)

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Empirical evidence supports that teacher turnover is at its height when an individual reaches the third year of their profession, precisely the time when teachers are reaching the stage of "proficient." Why? Burnout. We expend more energy than nearly any other profession and are asked to work for free when planning lessons and grading papers. We are paid less than (to name a few) bus drivers and subway conductors. A small percentage of teachers find compensation in their deeds. However, to truly hire and retain the most talent, salary must be commensurate with workload. The only way the state will agree to pay more, which is very close to happening in one city, is if it is allowed to weed out the worst and pay the best via the absence of a protective union.

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rieriev79 | Elementary School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 21, 2008 at 4:26 PM (Answer #7)

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Do you think teacher's unions help or hinder public education? What evidence supports your opinion?

Do you think teacher's unions help or hinder public education? What evidence supports your opinion?

I am currently teaching in a state where unions aren't as active as in other states. The unions here have no say or no power.  The teachers have a limited voice and no means for change.

I was raised in a state with great union, that were very active. These unions influenced mahor changes in teacher contracts and other school matters.

 I personally feel that strong unions are a valuable tool for teachers. They can help the teacher voice their opinions and ideas.

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floridateacher | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 21, 2008 at 6:48 PM (Answer #8)

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Wow! I'm so glad I stumbled across this today. #4 post, amy-lepore has done a great job explaining the pros and cons of unions in a variety of situations.

I think this might be a "chicken or egg" kind of question. Here's where I see the problem (and I haven't any clue which came first):

Highly qualified individuals aren't being attracted or retained as teachers (see post #6 by renkins44) AND teaching isn't a highly competitive job (You don't hear schools saying we have too many English teachers, but instead school districts are desparate to fill positions every year.)

There needs to be a shift so that teaching becomes a professional career choice for highly motivated people. In order to do that, two things must happen. (1) Teachers need to be paid more in order to attract and retain those people who would otherwise work in other industries for higher pay and more potential opportunity. (2) Teachers need to be held to higher standards and be rewarded for jobs well done. Unions should not be in place to prevent the firing of crappy, inefficient, negligent, criminals who happen to be teachers. 

Make the job competitive.

Reward great teachers.

Remove poor teachers.

Pay teachers professional salaries.

Then, slowly, teachers unions will get back to doing what they are supposed to do rather than protecting members who shouldn't be teachers.

Florida Teacher

http://popquizzical.blogspot.com/

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lwolf | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 23, 2008 at 10:55 AM (Answer #9)

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I teach in higher education and have experienced both sides of the argument. I am currently teaching in a state that does not allow unions and is undergoing financial cuts at a fast and furious rate. There is talk of letting untenured faculty go, and for tenured faculty - pay furloughs. This would never be allowed in a union situation, but as it stands, we as a faculty, have no voice in this matter.

Virginia Professor

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stacylkh | Elementary School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 7, 2008 at 6:52 PM (Answer #10)

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The union can only be useful if they have power. So it depends on what state you live in whether or not your union has any power. If you live in a non-union right to work state, the union really has no power and teachers cannot strike to take a stand.  In Minnesota the unions are powerful because unions are respected and valid. They make a difference with the schoo districts there because everyone is expected to join and that gives the force. In non-union states it is a choice to participate.

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 13, 2009 at 9:03 AM (Answer #11)

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Unions are a perfectly valid means of asserting a group's desires.  The problem comes when they act coercively, and that includes keeping a teacher on staff who deserves to be fired or an "educator" administrator who does little yet talks much, mostly politics. Most unions deal with business management; in the case of education, it appears teacher's unions deal with government.  This is the crux of the problem.  If good teachers are in demand, but the pay and work conditions are lousy, something's wrong, because that situation violates the basic law of Supply and Demand. That something appears to be the government's role in determining salaries, at least in this state, along with other issues pertaining to teachers so that the union isn't truly free to negotiate for the benefit of its members.  Having worked in both public and private schools, those with minimal government interference have the happiest kids and teachers, both willing to learn and change as needs require, and the least number of administrators.  Maybe the question isn't about unions at all, bu should be "Does government help or hinder public education?"

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frizzle1 | Elementary School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 17, 2010 at 1:45 PM (Answer #12)

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Unions are a perfectly valid means of asserting a group's desires.  The problem comes when they act coercively, and that includes keeping a teacher on staff who deserves to be fired or an "educator" administrator who does little yet talks much, mostly politics. Most unions deal with business management; in the case of education, it appears teacher's unions deal with government.  This is the crux of the problem.  If good teachers are in demand, but the pay and work conditions are lousy, something's wrong, because that situation violates the basic law of Supply and Demand. That something appears to be the government's role in determining salaries, at least in this state, along with other issues pertaining to teachers so that the union isn't truly free to negotiate for the benefit of its members.  Having worked in both public and private schools, those with minimal government interference have the happiest kids and teachers, both willing to learn and change as needs require, and the least number of administrators.  Maybe the question isn't about unions at all, bu should be "Does government help or hinder public education?"

I have also worked on both sides of the Union situations.  When in a school district with unions I saw nothing but an abuse of collective bargaining power as the union fought for scheduling changes the a few wanted but most teachers opposed.  I was so disillusioned, I left the union.  Now, I am in a non-union state and have experienced the complete helplessness of teachers who disagree with administrative policies but have no choice but to tow the party line or find a new line of work.  I agree with #11 that the crux of the issue isn't really union vs. non-union, but more administration vs. less administration.  If we can do a good enough job of training, screening, and developing teachers (I personally feel that becoming a teacher should be a two year apprenticeship with a series of master teachers!) we could spend less time putting teachers under the microscope and more time letting teachers do what we pay them to do.  My feeling is that too much of the education budget goes to pay people who never actually teach children.  The teaching of children is where the rubber meets the road and where the money needs to be spent. 

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pswilson63 | Elementary School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 27, 2010 at 11:03 AM (Answer #13)

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I have been teaching for 25 years and have taught in a city with a very strong teachers' union and am currently teaching in state where the union is practically nonexistent.  As someone who has experienced both sides of the argument, I can say that there are no clear cut answers.  In the city with a union, I saw people in classrooms who had no business attempting to teach children.  But because of seniority, it was almost impossible to fire them.  The answer was usually to move the problem to another school and let someone else deal with it.  On the other hand, in my current position I see teachers have more and more requirements piled on top of them with no additional comprensation and no way to say no.  There needs to be some common ground found between the two extremes, but finding it may be a difficult task.   

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 1, 2011 at 6:52 PM (Answer #14)

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In light of what is happening in Wisconsin, I think it is time to resurrect this discussion!  Teacher's unions are often made out to be the bad guys, and the public percetion seems to be that they exist only to keep bad teachers on the job.

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