Public schools need to be better. A whole lot better. Yet in the valuable discussion of what to do and how, it is easy to fall into good union/bad union cliches which undermine even the most well-meaning critics, create a presumption of malfeasance, and undermine the critical relationships between students and teachers, and teachers and parents. Scott Lehigh’s recent Boston Globe column unfortunately does just that.
After Newtown, and all the other school shootings where teachers died in the line of duty, and after who-knows-how-many teachers have spent their own money on school supplies for their students, the continued attacks on teachers and teachers unions must not stand. Journalists have a responsibility not to mislead, and to accurately report what teachers unions stand for. Shallow portraits of teachers and their unions don’t help, they hurt, and provide a shameful cover for underperforming administrators who want to silence the voices of the most powerful advocates for better schools. In my hometown of Concord, the head of the local teachers union was recently fired. You think that was because she was a bad teacher? No one in Concord who knows her does.
The suggestion that teachers unions are opposed to a longer school day is wrong. Teachers unions, including the Boston Teachers Union, support an extended school day to help children academically and to better accommodate the works schedules of parents. But teachers should not be asked to work for free. We do not ask police officers, firefighters, librarians, social workers, or any government or private employees to work without compensation.
While requiring teachers to work without pay would certainly save money, so would asking janitors to work double shifts, and we don’t do that. We don’t ask National Grid to provide free energy, or Staples to provide free school supplies. Why does anyone think that teachers should be required to work without being paid?
Mayor Menino was right about the Stanford CREDO study: if you read it, instead of relying on the press release written by the Walton Family Foundation which funded the study, you’ll see is does NOT favor increasing the number of charter schools. The study specifically states that the methodology used is not dispositive, and that the causes of some differences between students at traditional public schools and at charter schools are “unknown”.
Teacher-student relationships must have at their foundation mutual respect. Teachers are in loco parentis, and need to be treated with respect and consideration for their overall well-being, just as parents do. “Respect the child,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Children who see their teachers being treated with respect will respond in kind. Ask a respected student if they believe their teachers should have to work without being paid. If we’re raising them right, in an environment that supports their innate sense of fairness, the answer will be no. If we ask ourselves if teachers deserve fair reporting, the answer will be a resounding yes.