Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Teachers Unions and Professionalism

Speaking of how teachers are treated, this morning school reform advocate Whitney Tilson passed along a note making a strong case that teachers unions too often promote the wrong sort of professionalism. The letter was provoked by United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who recently argued against holding teachers accountable for their students’ performance:

When people say to me, you know, well, why shouldn’t teachers be, you know, judged on the test scores of their kids? I say to them…would you want your oncologist, or your mom or dad’s oncologist to be graded on the survival rates of his or her patients?

Leaving aside the fact that oncologists do in fact get “graded” in various ways on their performance, there’s a deeper problem with Weingarten’s attitude. Writer Mike Goldstein, founder of the award-winning MATCH charter school in Boston nailed it (the best parts are bolded for emphasis):

My wife is an oncologist. She likes her job a lot.Each day, she’s put in a position to succeed. If she does what she’s been trained to do on nuts-and-bolts medical issues, she gets to do the “art” — which for her is helping families deal with the intersection of health and emotion.

At No Excuses charter schools, teachers are put in a position to succeed, too. If a No Excuses teacher does what she’s been trained to do — phone parents to build relationships; start the class with a written do-now; handle disruptions in a prescribed manner; etc etc — she gets to do the “art” of teaching, which is to make science or math or English “come alive.”

At many traditional urban schools, teachers are put in a position to fail. That’s in part because teachers are taught in Ed School, then again by the union, to FIGHT any school-wide methodology on how to handle nuts-and-bolts classroom culture issues.

While a doctor accepts that she will learn EXACTLY what to do on many matters (the science), before dealing with the nuance (the art), teachers are taught that this means “their professional judgment, and autonomy, is being questioned.”

Funny, my wife pores over journals which tell her EXACTLY what to do in a million different situations, and never feels her professional judgment under siege.

Categories: Teachers Unions