Beyond the Teachers’ Union

Could it be that the big hoo-hah over teachers’ unions is obscuring more important issues in education?

And what would those issues be?

For one thing, legislatures are requiring more and more teacher evaluations. I know that many teachers dislike feeling they are being put “on the line,” but on the other hand, frequent visits from my principal make me feel that he knows and understands my work. The district is pushing principals to be more and more rigorous in their evals (read that as a pressure to lower scores), but our principal points out that good teaching is good teaching, which comes out as good evals, no matter the pressure.

Another big issue is how to decide who gets let go when staff cuts are necessary. The ongoing standard is “last hired, first fired,” and as a veteran teacher, I think that seems fair. I know that popular discourse assumes that newer teachers are better than older teachers, just because, but my experience doesn’t show that. I’ve met stellar newbies and I’ve observed magnificent oldies. It doesn’t depend on how old you are, although studies seem to reveal that it takes a few years to find your stride and reach your finest level of work.

Another big issue is merit pay. I particularly take umbrage at this one because at present, math and science teachers get higher pay for good performance just because of what they teach. Next comes performance pay for tested subjects. Well, what about me? I’m an art teacher–a good one. It shows up in contests with blind judging where my students clean up the awards! Is that good enough for performance pay?

There are other important issues to discuss; just collar a classroom teacher of your acquaintance and ask him or her. It’s time to give up the fruitless fight over unions and talk about the more serious issues.

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