Published Online: August 23, 2011
Published in Print: August 24, 2011, as Blogs of the Week

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Divide Within the Teachers' Unions

Just when it seemed that teachers’ unions could not possibly be subjected to any further attacks, they find themselves confronting a totally unexpected foe. According to a new survey by the National Center for Education Information, nearly one in five educators say they support abolishing teachers’ unions.

The 33-question survey of 1,076 public school teachers across the country found that 19 percent favored eliminating unions, and 33 percent supported eliminating tenure. This compares with 15 percent and 28 percent, respectively, 15 years ago.

What stood out were the contrasts between new and experienced teachers. According to the report, newer teachers are “considerably more open” to reforms than their veteran colleagues.

Teachers’ unions would be foolish to dismiss out of hand the changing attitudes. New teachers take for granted the rights they possess—rights that exist only because previous generations of teachers went on strike to obtain them.

Albert Shanker said it best: Before collective bargaining, there was collective begging. I wonder if new teachers fully understand the difference.

—Walt Gardner


Haunting Words to Inspire Every Teacher

Back in the days when I had no idea of what was actually required to be a good teacher, when I was in grad school studying education theory and making foolish assumptions about how to manage students, I walked in on a conversation in a teachers’ lounge that would change my life.

A few teachers were reminiscing about their classroom horror stories at other schools: Sarah threatened to jump out the window, again. ... Angel knocked over bookshelves in a fit of rage. ... And in my desire to fit in, I began to share about the unbelievable dysfunction at my old school.

Even though I hadn’t yet earned my teaching certificate, I felt like I had earned some stripes. I was the heroine of the story, fearless and unafraid.

“It happened to them,” were the four words that shut me and the other teachers up. “It happened to them, not to you. You tell the stories like it’s some kind of entertainment, but it happened to them—the kids. They are the ones who 30 years from now will remember these stories with tears in their eyes.”

It was the middle school social studies teacher. He was a demure white man in his late 30s who often wore cardigans like Mr. Rogers. He went on to explain that he, too, used to complain and feel like the victim until another teacher rebuked him with those words. He felt compelled to pass that wisdom on.

It happened to them: This truth has haunted me for the past eight years. The mission is bigger than us. Educators and policymakers must boil the chatter down to two essential questions: To what degree will this policy enhance student learning, and how will we know?

—Marilyn Rhames


Before We Let Them Power Up in Class

When one of our science teachers came to me last spring and told me we didn’t have enough headphones to do the online state science test, I told him, “We have 600 pairs of headphones floating around this school. Just tell the students to take them out of their pockets.” We also have close to 600 cellphones, most of which are smartphones.

Now, I don’t believe that smartphones shouldn’t be used in the classroom, but as we allow kids to use them as part of the curriculum, we open up a whole new can of worms regarding liability.

Currently, students bring their devices to school at their own risk.

Once we tell students to take them out and use them, how do we absolve ourselves from the liability of their being lost or broken?

—Nancy Flynn

Vol. 31, Issue 01, Page 16

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