by Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr.

Here’s a question: do great teachers really need unions?

One lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is testing that question.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry have issued a joint statement condemning the court’s consideration of the case.

They said:

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life,”

Speaking solely from the first six years of my teaching career, and from the experiences that I’ve had with one of the most powerful teacher’s unions in the country, The Baltimore Teachers Union, affectionately referred to as the BTU. As a former building representative in the BTU, I can honestly say I didn’t know or fully understand how unions worked until I was able to get hands on, practical experience with dealing with union issues.

I grew weary of the position very fast. It seemed as if I was constantly talking and referring the same teachers to union attorneys. These weren’t teachers that were “rock stars”, putting students first, and going above and beyond for students. These were the teachers that hated their jobs, but had too much time in to start another career, so they were willing to bide their time, and ride the system out until retirement.

The system knew that these underperforming teachers were a detriment to the profession, which is why there was a substantial push to pay these teachers to retire. I finally became frustrated with the system that I thought was meant to put students first, and I left to work in a system that I felt really puts students first, the charter school system.

Would I ever return to a district with a powerful union? I certainly would.

Contracts with school districts are becoming more progressive, and giving school districts the power to remove ineffective teachers. Thus allowing students to be put first.

This process is slow moving, but the Supreme Court Case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, could put these types of contracts on overdrive, by essentially allowing great teachers to negotiate for themselves. Teachers that come in and make an impact should not be paid the same as teachers who do not. There needs to be a uniform way to hold teachers accountable for student achievement. If nationally, normed standardized testing is what’s agreed upon, and then let’s do it.

No more excuses, because the excuses only put roadblocks in front of kids.

Circling back to my initial question, do great teachers need unions?

I won’t answer this question directly. What I will say is that I want my kids in front of great teachers. Teachers that aren’t watching the clock, teachers that know children raised in poverty need more, and are willing to give these students what they deserve.

What say you?

Who do you want teaching your kids?


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