Monday, July 08, 2013

Even Teachers Agree: The Problem is Unions

Two of my closest friends are former teachers in their fifties.  Both of them retired from a career of public school employment within the past five years and both remain active in the profession.  One works from home as an online high school teacher for a private education company and the other is a part-time university professor who teaches K-12 classroom management.  We all became friends as members of the same traditional protestant church and share conservative values on most issues.

This past Friday, the three of us engaged in our usual badinage over an exceptional bottle of wine from the west coast of central California.  If you must know, it was a 2008 “Southing” Pinot Noir by Sea Smoke. This was, of course, paired with complementary cheese and crisp biscuits.

I posed a question that I had been reserving for years for these two.  The three of us have been compadres for a couple of decades and I knew that I would receive a full answer.  But like that bottle of pinot, the character of the grape needed to develop for a time after leaving the field.

I asked, “If you were the Chairman of the Republican Party, how would you appeal to teachers to get them to vote with your candidates?”

Predictably, the initial responses emoted from their right-side cerebra with, “First, stop blaming teachers for student failures.”  And, “Stop complaining about the spoils of time off and early-age retirement.”  And, “Today’s teachers haven’t had a raise in four years.”  And, “Get parents to quit warring with teachers.  When I was a kid, what my teacher said was law and my parents backed them up at home.”

After the wine decanted a bit, the acidity began to vaporize and the pinot opened up smoothly.  Along with the mellowing vin came more useful responses to my question: “The Republican Party is more connected with free enterprise and profitability than is the Democratic Party.  Republicans make educators uncomfortable and insecure by challenging us to adapt to a competitive economy.  That is not the lifestyle that we chose.  And Democrats defend us with empathy and support.”

As special as they are, I believe that my friends are representative of most educators who identify powerfully with their profession.  They see themselves more as constituents of the teaching archetype than as citizens who have trained in the profession of teaching.  Like other kinships such as The United States Marines, law enforcement, and clergy, education has become a fraternity with its own language, certifications, memberships, and affirmations.  In a manner, K-12 has developed as its own culture in awkward isolation from the community in which it serves.

Another useful point came during their lamenting teachers being subjected to public criticism, “It makes sense to conduct standardized testing to measure student progress.  But the natural response from educators is to shift the focus of instruction from student comprehension to simply training the students to perform well on those tests.  That is a low-set bar that hinders imagination.”

There were two areas where my friends’ initial emotional responses evolved into reasoned thought as the sky darkened and our glasses emptied.  Where they first protested a lack of pay increase for teachers, they later described recent raises as being about 3%.  It is not in education’s lexicon to figure compensation as tied to the customers’ ability to pay (i.e. the American economy).  The second change of mind was in regards to the effectiveness of modern-day teaching methods.  While first describing public K-12 as “better than ever,” they later acknowledged the unacceptable percentage of high school grads who require remedial coursework in their first year of college.

Two other topics where liberal indoctrination maintains a lockjaw grip on my pals’ thinking are environmentalism and egalitarianism.  While I contend that teaching the green agenda is a proselytizing of the Left’s religion, they defend it as promoting good stewardship.  They also are accustomed to assuming an “A” performance rating for most teachers, with rare instances of a deserving unsatisfactory rating.

The most revealing and astute observation from these old owls was that teachers would align themselves with the conservative party if they felt honored by them, as are firefighters and the military.  And the single antagonist preventing that alliance is the teachers union establishment.

They spoke ruefully of union membership as like owning a pit bull; a disagreeable companion that you would rather not have in your house, but one that gives you a position of strength when you could use it.  They offered two specific attractions to union representation; liability insurance and having someone else perform the unpleasant task of salary negotiations on their behalf.

The highlight of the evening for me was the moment when both of my friends agreed aloud that their utopian ideal of parents, citizens, and Republicans honoring teachers could not be realized as long as the union remains engaged.  Their classic mistrust of school district management was a clear result of that devil on their left shoulder.  They even described how union leadership would whisper warnings of wicked management intentions.

But we are now well into the 21st Century.  And I believe that it is high time that American communities function with greater purpose in preparing our next generations of technologists, scientists, accountants, artisans, artists, and dreamers.  I would invite union leadership to become part of the solution by working in constructive positions as employees within a school district’s Human Resources Department rather than fabricating an outside demand for their services with such tired, archaic and destructive practices.

I am inspired at the notion of honoring our teachers in an effective partnership with engaged parents and local industries who rely on the emergence of a well-prepared and resourceful workforce.  We already entrust to teachers what American conservatives value above all – our children and the very destiny of this nation.  Let’s configure our communities to invest in equal opportunity for our youth on a national level with unrivaled equipping of our youth on an international level.  We can do this.


Drunken teens and a betrayal by British teachers

The picture posted on Facebook by a pupil from Biddick Academy in Washington, Tyne and Wear, is one that should chill the heart of any parent.

It shows a group of schoolgirls as young as 15 or 16 in crotch-skimming skirts, sitting around a table with beer and wine after an evening concert at the school. Also at the table are their teachers, and a girl has her arms draped around one of them.

In another picture, a girl can be seen with a bottle of lager in her hand. One of the teenagers has written underneath: ‘Can’t believe I’ve just got mortal in school with my teachers ha ha.’
This picture, which was posted on Facebook, shows a group of schoolgirls as young as 15 or 16 in skirts, sitting around a table with beer and wine after an evening concert at the school - with their teachers

This picture, which was posted on Facebook, shows a group of schoolgirls as young as 15 or 16 in skirts, sitting around a table with beer and wine after an evening concert at the school - with their teachers

For the uninitiated, ‘getting mortal’ means getting very drunk. Little wonder the father of one 16-year-old pupil said he did not think it was ‘appropriate’ for them to be drinking at school.

What an understatement! If there is one place that parents should be able to trust with the safety of their children, it is school. And school in this case has failed utterly in its duty of care.

Of course teachers should encourage their pupils to enjoy themselves, but these girls are still two years too young to buy drinks legally. How can it possibly be right for them to be plied with alcohol by school staff?

News of the boozy party at Biddick Academy comes uncomfortably soon after the story of runaway teacher Jeremy Forrest, who fled with his 15-year-old pupil to Bordeaux.

He was imprisoned for five-and-a-half years last month after being found guilty of abduction and sexual activity with a child he had groomed from the age of 14. During the court case, we discovered that a number of teachers at Forrest’s school knew of his relationship with an underage pupil, yet did nothing about it except have a quiet word in his ear.

Weren’t they also culpable of a gross neglect of their duty — just like the teachers at Biddick Academy who allowed their pupils to ‘get mortal’?

The sad truth is that we now live in a world where both parents and teachers want to be children’s best friends, not adults responsible for their wellbeing.

Again and again, at home and at school, the boundaries between adulthood and childhood are being blurred — and the ones who suffer are inevitably the children.

A teacher’s job is not to be friends with their pupils, not to treat them like grown-ups by getting them drunk or — as in the case of that abusive monster Forrest — into bed. It is to teach them the joy of learning, give them lessons in life, and lead by example.

A great teacher can change a child’s life, while a bad one can harm them for ever. We should be rooting out  and booting out those who fail our children. And what better place to start than the Biddick Academy?


Good teachers trump small classes: OECD adviser

I have  been saying this for years --JR

Australian children could be achieving the same stellar results in international testing as those from Korea and Finland within a generation if educators addressed equity challenges, boosted teacher quality and strengthened discipline, a world-leading education expert said.

Education policy adviser to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Andreas Schleicher said too much money had been spent reducing class sizes, instead of boosting teacher performance.

"If you have to make a choice between a great teacher and a small class, go for the great teacher," he said. "Australia has put its bets very much the other way around over the past decade."

The federal government has set the goal of having Australian students in the top five in the world in reading, science and maths by 2025, a target inscribed in the Gonski legislation.

Mr Schleicher said the target was "credible, reasonable and achievable".

But when speaking to senior education bureaucrats and academics in Sydney on Friday, he warned "this goal is shared by virtually every education system around the world".

To reach the target, Mr Schleicher said Australia had to address the social inequities the existing system reinforced.

Implementing the needs-based funding system recommended in the Gonski report, he said, would go a long way towards achieving that.

"The current approach to school funding in Australia is, to say the least, not entirely transparent," he said. "There's a lot of money going into the Australian system but it's really a matter of using that money well and aligning the resources better with the challenges being faced."

Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten met Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon on Friday, as well as representatives from the Catholic and independent school sectors, as the government continued in its push to sell the reforms.

The Victorian government said the conversation was productive and both parties had expressed goodwill to come to an agreement.

Mr Schleicher explained that, to address the performance disparity within Australian schools, teachers needed to be able to identify struggling students early. That, he said, was where NAPLAN testing should help.

"I think NAPLAN has really brought into the system a more rigorous approach to quality assurance."

He said Australia's performance could lift in the coming years as the impact of NAPLAN began to filter through.

OECD data also showed that Australian students were not as well-disciplined as other high-performing countries.

"Students complain about noise and disorder in classrooms and there is instruction time lost at the beginning of lessons."

Mr Schleicher said work also needed to be done to "attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms".

He said Australia's biggest problem was not training but continued professional development. "Many teachers feel left alone in the school, they don't get the feedback they need to improve their teaching."

Chief executive of the Department of Education and Communities's Office of Education Leslie Lobel said teacher quality reforms announced earlier this year "are very much about ongoing professional development".

"These things can't be done overnight but they are obviously being started and there's significant reform under way."

Making teaching more attractive was important, Mr Schleicher said, but increasing pay was not the answer. Australian teachers were paid well compared with those elsewhere and relatively well compared to professions with similar qualifications. "It's more about creating a more flexible, knowledge-based profession," he said.


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