I sometimes go THERE, so you don't have to. There is, of course, the StudentsFirst(dot)org/Michelle Rhee zombie club. You might say, “Nearlysomebody, it is unfair of you to call them zombies. They might have just missed the rapture by a hair.” But once you see what passes for truth there, you will agree with me: zombies.
See, what they post there are stories, ostensibly of teachers, all of whom reject things like tenure and unions, because they really love the students. In their minds, unions and tenure just protect bad teachers while, for reasons left unclear, punish GOOD teachers, and therefore, all the tender baby lambs that we teachers refer to as students. So they posted a new article today, and several facebook "friends" felt the need to post it and declare how great it is to see a brave teacher bucking the status quo. So here is the article and my commentary.
The introduction of the author reads as follows:
Rhonda Lochiatto is a fifth grade teacher who lives and works in central Florida. She has worked in Osceola and Orange County and is currently employed in Volusia County.
THEN THE ARTICLE STATES:
Thirteen years ago, when I first started teaching, I immediately joined the local teachers' union. I felt like I had to join because all the other teachers in my school were members. A few months later, when I was making about $20,000 a year and struggling to pay my rent and other bills, I decided to withdraw my membership.
OK, so nevermind that unions traditionally ensure that employees get more time off and higher pay. Here we see them portrayed as nothing more than peer-pressuring bullies. She felt like she HAD to join. As Florida is a right to work state, the union can't force her to join or deduct dues from her paycheck. The unions in Florida and other right to work (for less money) states are pretty powerless compared to states like Illinois, so it is surprising that she felt bullied. Nevertheless, this is how she presents it, so I will take her at her word for now.
However, I might point out that, while she complains about how little she makes, being in a union state would have increased her pay, as well as made her job safer. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 19 of the 25 states with the highest worker fatality rates were right-to-work states. A study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that workers in right-to-work states earned an average of 6.5% less than their counterparts in states without the law. None of the 22 right-to-work states had an average annual pay level above the U.S. Average.
She decides to withdraw her membership from the union because she apparently makes so little that every single bit counts. I am ALSO in a union and pay, in today's dollars, $45 bucks a paycheck, or around $800/year. According to measuringworth.com,thirteen years ago, I would have paid around $34 per paycheck. So, If I make 20k/year, that means I take home about $650 every two weeks, and after my union dues, I am still on the upside of $600. Allow me to digest these numbers. The problem does not appear to be the $35.00 in union dues. The problem appears to be that a starting teacher didn't make shit to begin with in Florida. Perhaps if the union was stronger there, she could have benefited from the 6.5% salary bump it likely would have given her. In other words, she would have had better protection, a better work environment, due process at work, and netted an extra $20 bucks a month (even AFTER union dues). $20 bucks is no big deal, but apparently, she was needing every penny. That extra $20 could have made a big difference to her.
As I researched more about the union, I began to question certain policies and procedures. Specifically, I did not understand how it was possible that so many great teachers put so much additional time and effort into their work, produced greater results, and yet were paid the same salary and benefits as others who were far less dedicated. It did not make any sense to me.
Indeed, she does not know how unions work. The union does not sign your paycheck. They cannot give you a raise for being a good teacher. They can and do negotiate raises, not for individuals, but for everyone meeting certain criteria. They cannot say, “Hey, superintendent Smith, Instructor Lochiatto is doing a bang-up job. Her test scores are good. Why don't you give her a raise?” That is not how it works. If she had managed to negotiate a raise on her own, I doubt the union would have stood in the way. When I started my current job—my first union job, actually—I was slated to start at a salary I really liked. But the college VP looked at my skills and job experience and actually started me out a full half-step above where I should have been, a not insubstantial raise. When I happened to mention it to the union rep, he smiled and said, “Good job. That's better than most start out at.” Perhaps if she had had a better resume, more applicable job experience, or a higher degree than BA, she would have started at a higher salary.
But lets look at this a little more, shall we? She can't understand why teachers who work really hard are paid the same as teachers who don't. Sigh. Where to begin. You know, at every job I have ever had—from the fish-fryer at Catfish King, to the burger assembler at McDonalds, to the teacher at Name Witheld University, to the librarian at Unmentioned Community College, I have always wondered why some people made the same money I did. Hell, many make even more than I do. This is the human condition, not the union condition. Grow up.
I have also never understood why teaching is a salaried position, with a specified number of hours. No results-producing teacher sticks to the minimum number—we work constantly!
No shit. If you have graded papers at a restaurant, you are a teacher. If you have graded them at the airport, you are a teacher. If you have gone upstairs to grade papers before the relatives leave after Thanksgiving Dinner, you are a teacher. Congratulations. You're a teacher, and that means that one big part of your life is accepting guilt as an inherent feature of relaxation. Between September and the end of May, you should always be teaching, grading, lesson-planning, or sleeping. If you are not, you are probably not doing your job well. That is what it is like to be a teacher. Deal with it.
But back to her essay:
She thinks that some people are not as dedicated as she is, yet make the same paycheck, and that bothers her. AND, she thinks that everyone works constantly, so teachers should not be salaried. Leaving out the fact that her idea is utterly dependent on some kind of magic, anti-union fairy land with a a magic time clock allowing teachers to bill their homework to the school, how the hell does that conclusion follow? It works fine if you are not a teacher, don't know much about the field, and did a quick login to TF.org to see those evil unions get their comeuppance, but to anyone who really thinks about it, her conclusions don't follow her argument.
Then she follows it up by dredging the other TF.org pet peeve from the non-sequitur swamp: TENURE.
My own personal experiences left me puzzled over teacher tenure. When I left my first job in Osceola County, everyone thought I was crazy to give up guaranteed job security. I reasoned that if I'm not doing my job, I shouldn't be protected and if I'm doing what's expected of me, I will keep my job anyway. However, after relocating to a new district, I was pink slipped at the end of the year. The reason I was laid off was because I was one of the last ones hired at the school. What that means is that even though I had exemplary evaluations, another teacher stayed simply because they'd been there longer. I accepted the policy and quickly began the job search again, but last in, first out doesn't benefit kids.
So she is puzzled by tenure and leaves the job, apparently on principle, because she is Ayn Rand or something. Then lo and behold, she is fired from her next school, even though she has good evaluations, because she was the last one hired. Again, I have seen this happen at non-union jobs as well. While she does not discuss the evaluations of the teachers who were not fired in her stead, we are left to assume that they are just like all the rest of those lazy, tenured, union-backed teachers who refuse to work as hard the younguns and just skate by. But isn't it possible that the other teachers had commensurate evaluations AND seniority AND better education AND better job skills?
Fortunately, there is a happy ending for her:
I eventually moved to my current home in Volusia County, where I have been at my current school for six years, and though I have again attained tenure I still don't understand why this policy is in place. I should not be guaranteed a job just because I have been at the school over a period of time. My longevity should be based on my performance. In talking with other teachers and parents, I know I am not alone in my concerns. Great teachers deserve the recognition that comes with being great. Ineffective teachers deserve to know that they are ineffective and to be given a chance to either better themselves or to find a more fitting career field.
She doesn't understand much. You don't get tenure for showing up. You get tenure for having good evaluations, proving yourself a hard worker and a team player in the department, for busting your ass on committee work, for taking on and successfully completing all job duties assigned to you, for having a good relationship with your students and colleagues, for doing a job-based tenure project (in some cases), and, oh yeah, showing up on time and doing everything that is asked of you. And once you get tenure, it doesn't mean you have it forever. If you screw up, you go on probation. If you keep screwing up, you get fired.
Anyway, after all this, I finally pinpointed my main problem with this article: This all starts because she does not make enough money. In response, she blames the ONE organization that is trying to get her more money, the UNION. The school, in Florida or elsewhere, is not going to pay you more just because they think you are doing a good job. Doing a good job is expected of everyone in every school I have worked in. If you don't think you are paid enough, then make your union stronger or go get a job on Wall Street.
I started wondering why this would not be obvious to her. But then, I did a little research and found that Rhonda Lochiatto is NOT JUST a fifth grade teacher in Florida. She is also the state coordinator of Tea for Education, according to her linkedin page at
http://www.linkedin.com/.... Tea for Education is, of course, part of the corporate-subsidized Tea Party.
It all starts to make sense now: It isn't SUPPOSED to make sense. Rhonda is not the wise and informed voice of a teacher; she is a propagandist for the tea party! This is just another way for them to take the good intentions of uninformed people and turn them against the people who are trying to teach their kids.