Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Unions Are Barrier to Better Teachers

August 29, 2017 1 min read

To the Editor:

Education Week Teacher blogger Nancy Flanagan recently wrote about how some states require a higher score on state certification tests for teacher-licensing exams—which makes it “unreasonably difficult” to get into teaching—while others eliminate licensing requirements to fill classrooms (“The Many Ways We Are De-Professionalizing Teaching,” Teacher in a Strange Land blog, July 20, 2017). She argues that both policy strategies are deprofessionalizing teaching. It is quite the opposite. These are two different policy levers used as a means to achieve the same end: attracting more talented teachers.

Without high cutoff scores for licensing exams, many teachers enter the classroom without sufficient content knowledge. We repeatedly face this issue in my own district in Connecticut. Our teachers often express discomfort with the content they are expected to teach, especially those who must teach math. How have they managed to get licensed if they’re not comfortable with elementary math? Additionally, there are young people with strong content knowledge who want to teach (including myself), but feel the teaching salary doesn’t justify the time and money required for certification. I began teaching math in a public high school as a consultant when I was 21, and six years later, I still do not feel that completing a credential before teaching would have improved my expertise or practice.

If anything has harmed the professionalism of teaching, it’s the unionization of the teaching force. The system values experience over talent, limits hours and responsibilities, and makes it difficult to terminate ineffective teachers. While these policies are intended to protect teachers from wrongful termination and overexertion, they have unfortunately smeared the reputation of the profession with no signs of recovery. I guarantee that policymakers are not desperate to rip off teachers. In fact, they are desperate to attract talent. Though some try to achieve this through raising teaching standards, while others eliminate the hurdles to entering a classroom, the goal is the same: getting competent teachers where we need them most.

Lauren Seymour

Data & Performance Management Analyst

New Beginnings Family Academy

Bridgeport, Conn.

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2017 edition of Education Week as Unions Are Barrier to Better Teachers