I spent seven years as a teacher and administrator in public education. I’ve worked in the trenches with difficult kids trying to help them learn; and I’ve been a lead decision-maker on public school campuses. So I feel like I have insight to address the recent Wisconsin protests from a leadership perspective.
For those that don’t know, the state legislature in Wisconsin is balancing their state budget by eliminating a lot of public worker benefits. They’re also proposing to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public workers–including school teachers. Wisconsin is trying to break the back of the teacher union.
Texas–where I taught–doesn’t allow it’s teachers to unionize. Educators are able to join associations. These groups lack the power of a union, but like to pretend they do. Many times the associations are trying to save the job of a teacher that doesn’t need to be in the classroom. I don’t mean to be negative about their purpose, but associations have saved the job of too many poor teachers.
Sometimes, though, a good teacher is wrongfully accused. I applaud the association members who work to save the job of those teachers. Unfortunately, associations don’t differentiate between good and bad teachers. No matter how poorly you teach, you’ll have an association lawyer battling to save your job.
Generally, I’m in favor of anything that keeps the government in check. Unions and associations claim to satisfy that role. Unfortunately, they have less noble goals: protecting their own interests. They really aren’t a good checking system.
Here’s the problem I see in Wisconsin: there is little talk about the children, and that’s what education is really all about. Governments and districts should, under no circumstances, withhold payment or benefits from hard-working teachers. But teachers and educators should never withhold learning from a child to make a point. Schools have been shut down in Wisconsin for over a week as teachers call in “sick,” which I think is sick. Maybe their calling in is correct after all.
Teachers don’t take the job to become wealthy, they serve to make a difference in the life of a child. The big difference in Wisconsin kids’ lives this week is that they are home when they should be in school. In my opinion, neither side is leading.
Here’s how I think each side could lead out:
- Teachers need to get back in the classroom and lead by example showing students that even when things don’t go your way, you never stop learning.
- Governments need to recognize teachers as a critical part of the social eco-system–like police and firefighters. Go without either of those services and your city will crumble. Go without teachers and your city will collapse.
- Teachers should look to their life-long learning attitudes as the source of their future employment rather than a contract. Keep growing, keep working.
- Governments should pay quality teachers a quality salary. Make the private sector unappealing by taking care of the really good teachers. And define a “really good teacher” outside of those that know how to have kids pass a test. This is the lowest level of “quality teaching” yet the highest standard that most governments establish.
- All parties should recognize that collective bargaining punishes the best teachers and rewards the worst. This means the best teachers will eventually grow weary of the system and leave to do something else while the poor teachers hang around collecting a guaranteed paycheck. CB is safe and comforting for teachers, which makes it hard to change. But education will continue to suffer as long as this method is employed.
Obviously, all of this is just my opinion. Yours may differ and I welcome your thoughts. I’ve turned on comments, but please be respectful in your disagreement.
How do you think the disagreement in Wisconsin should be solved?