Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teachers putting themselves ahead of their students

In Wrentham Massachusetts the teachers and the school board have not been able to reach an agreement on salary disputes. The teachers are demanding a 28% increase over the next three years. No community can afford that sort of jump in payroll even in the best of times. The teachers union hasn't called a strike because that would be illegal and they'd be liable for fines. But they have decided to take what actions they can in order to put pressure on the school board. They're refusing to work with students on independent study classes that they'd previously agreed to. They're not entering grades into a system that allows parents to check on their children's grades. But most unforgivable of all, teachers are refusing to write recommendations for seniors applying to college.
"Seniors were told by teachers they can't write personal recommendations to colleges. That is especially worrisome to those kids who want to apply for early admission," [School Board Chairwoman] Robeson said. "Students are told by colleges they don't really want form letters teachers said they would fill out. Colleges will frown on a form letter." Another issue brought up that also involves the middle school is teachers are not using a computerized grading system that allows parents to check on their children's progress, Robeson said.
This is deeply odious. Teachers unions like to pretend that they're all about the children, but no teacher who truly cared about young people would use the future of students as a weapon in a salary dispute. Here students are at a critical point in their lives as they apply to college and they need help from their teachers to get into college. And colleges look at those recommendations as this "Note to Applicants" from the dean of admissions at Connecticut College makes clear.

At the school where I teach, I usually write about 15 to 20 recommendations a year out of graduating class of around 140 students. We take recommendations very seriously at our school. If one teacher or college adviser doesn't know enough about a student to write an informative letter, we'll email around to see if some other teacher has some insight or interesting anecdote to help us give colleges a good picture of who these individual students are. I take it as one of my important responsibilities to help students achieve their dreams. Since we're a small school, we get to know students pretty well and I often have students in two or three classes plus in extra curricular activities I sponsor. If I can write something that helps college admissions officers get a more complete picture of an individual student's strengths and abilities then that is a wonderful opportunity for me. I can't imagine any true teacher holding that responsibility to students hostage in order to gain leverage in contract negotiations. That is truly shameful. The parents are angry and rightfully so.

I've heard from friends who have taught in school districts with powerful unions and what happens there is amazing to me. I've heard of union leaders who warn teachers not to meet to tutor students outside the hours of work agreed upon by the unions and not to sponsor student clubs outside of those hours. Can you imagine any teacher being told not to give help to students who don't understand the material? And then the unions like to talk about how they deserve raises in the name of the children.

The school board is petitioning the state to determine if the teachers' actions constitute a strike. If the answer is yes, they can petition for a cease and desist letter or impose a fine on the union. While the adults argue, the calendar is moving forward. Students who want to apply early admission have a deadline of November 1. Teachers have played their game with these students' futures. They have proven that they are not worth any pay increase at all. No teacher who truly cared about children would punish students over a salary dispute. These teachers should be wearing a badge of shame.

I've heard of quite a few of our former students who have graduated in the past year and want to teach but can't find jobs in North Carolina because of employment freezes around the state. They should head up to Wrentham and replace those teachers who are trading away students' futures in the middle of college application season.