, Newburyport, MA


October 9, 2012

How are teachers the problem?

I’m still irked by the keynote address of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the Republican National Convention. To listen to him, teachers unions are the ruin of Western Civilization and need to be crushed.

To the best of my knowledge, teachers haven’t added a dollar to the national debt. Wasn’t it the large bankers and Wall Street brokers who caused the meltdown that led to the current global economic crisis? Why isn’t Christie calling for the crushing of bankers and brokers?

Sure, teacher compensation impacts the local budget, but teachers too are citizens and taxpayers who contribute to both national and local tax revenues.

The word “union” is not a dirty word. It’s from the same root as “E pluribus unum,” “United we stand, divided we fall” and, yes, even the United States.

Unions historically rose in response to poor working conditions (textile mills, meat packing plants, one-room schools with unmarried women as teachers … ). In education, current contracts are bargained to improve both compensation and working conditions that are student learning conditions. With teachers unions under attack, with teachers expected to take the cuts to balance the budget, who will be the teachers of the future?

Several attacks on teachers unions need be addressed.

First, the issue of tenure: Tenure was designed to protect teachers from arbitrary retribution for the freedom to think and speak and teach in an open, exploratory atmosphere. Tenure is reached only after three years of satisfactory performance. If a fourth-year contract is granted to an unsatisfactory teacher, who is not doing his or her job?

In my own case as a journalism teacher who advocated for students expressing their views in the local weekly newspaper and as a special education teacher who advocated for some often controversial services, wouldn’t I have been at risk without tenure?

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