Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We are in this together: It's not us vs. them

Easy answers are easy to find.

An opinion piece recently was posted on the CNN website. It heralded the Supreme Court's recent decision regarding union dues. I am not here to discuss the merits of that decision.

What I would like to discuss is what was written in the first paragraph of the editorial when it states that with this decision the US Supreme Court provided an opportunity to overcome "two of the biggest obstacles to transforming education in America: the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers."

That's an easy answer. But, in my opinion, it's not true.

I am not here to defend teachers' unions. But suggesting that they are two of the biggest obstacles to transforming education is not right.

The author makes no mention of things like:

poverty, racial discrimination, depression among children and teens, parental involvement, second languages, community support, funding, preschool education, the availability of public libraries, hunger, the impact of social media, an over reliance on testing,

In my opinion these are bigger obstacles to transforming education.

The teachers I work with everyday in my school district search for ways to make a difference. This year a team of teachers at our high school teamed up to support students who struggled and over 80% of those students earned credit they would not have earned without that intervention, credit towards graduation. We have 2nd grade teachers who have started a garden club to help 2nd grade students learn a variety of valuable lessons - both inside and outside of the curriculum. We have teachers who pay for students' lunches. We have teachers who make sure that every student hears his or her name every single day.

The vast majority of these teachers are union members. Their union supports them. That is not to say that they do these things because they are union members but being a union member is important to them.

Unions have professionalized education. Better wages. Better working conditions. Protections for teachers from people like me - administrators who are sometimes arbitrary and capricious and expect outcomes that cannot be achieved without fundamental changes in society. Unions have helped to identify what works in classrooms and with students, have raised relevant questions about how what goes on outside of classroom and school affects what goes on inside the classroom and school, and have, overall, exerted a more positive than negative impact over the course of their long history. 

I agree that unions have at times strayed from a laser-like focus on the issues that are relevant to classrooms, teachers, and improving schools.

Perhaps the point being made in this opinion piece was that teachers should have a choice as to whether they should belong to the union. If so make that the headline.

Suggesting that educational reform has been stymied by unions is to ignore the fact that teachers and their union leadership have fought for our students and fought to improve our schools for many years in large and small ways.

Are they always right? No.

Do they make mistakes? Yes.

Can they do better? Absolutely.

But are they part of the answer to improving education in my state and my district? I believe that they have been in the past and can and will be in the future.

Do we need to improve education in the United States? Absolutely! But we will never get to that conversation if we continually make the conversation about other things.

When we demonize institutions and people, when we artificially create us vs. them relationships, when we say if we could just change this one thing and everything will be OK, we prevent real dialogue and collaboration on really important issues. I would hope that we could move past attacks that seek to divide us and find ways to work with each other so that our students will ultimately benefit.