Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is the UFT "A Union of Professionals?"

UFT leaders like to play make believe by trying to give the impression that we are a union of professionals. A profession is controlled by the members. But in NYC the UFT has assisted Joel Klein in the process of de-professionalizing and de-skilling teachers, who have less control than ever over what goes on in their classrooms.

I never looked at teaching as a profession. Though we used to be able to make a lot more basic decisions in our classes, most of us had little or not say in the curriculum or the materials we could use. Until 1979 I still had a lot of freedom. But that year we got a new principal who was a testing freak (she figured that if the raised our scores drastically she could become a Superintendent). There went the remnants of our freedom. I fought the testing wars with her for the rest of my career but gave up the ghost by leaving the self-contained classroom to become a computer teacher for my last 10 years in the school. But ever there we had friction as she wanted me to use the lab for test prep instead of teaching word processing (who measures that?)

There is a direct correlation between the standards and accountability movement that the UFT has so supported since the early 80's and the disappearance of whatever element of professionalism we used to have.

Witness the initial imposition by Joel Klein of the Diana Lam so-called progressive education system modeled on Teachers College, a program that was the core of District 2 (most of lower Manhattan) and then District 15 (Park Slope and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.) I was in District 14 (Greenpoint/Williamsburg) where we had the opposite program, a more rigid method of teaching, which we also didn't have a say in either, but at least they left us alone - mostly. The methods used were brutal and many teachers who could not adapt quickly were attacked by administrators. Some teachers "adapted" by faking it.

If we were a union of professionals, we would have played a role in these basic decisions.

The other point of attack has been the use of instant teachers in the Teaching Fellow and Teach for America program, many of whom leave after their two year commitment. The attacks on career teachers, a basic tenet of a profession, were inherent in the acceptance of this approach.

Now, I'm not taking a position vis a vis these people entering teaching (it was the way I came in in 1967.) I think it takes at least 3 years to become a proficient teacher no matter how you come in, though people with some background in student teaching have less ground to cover. Instead of calling for a paid apprentice program which would professionalize teaching, the UFT has gone along with the instant teacher schemes. (The Teaching Fellows idea came from Harold Levy, Klein's predecessor.)

The UFT supported the elimination of 1000 teachers who did not pass the teaching test but who had taught for years and were rated Satisfactory for their teaching while supporting people who had no experience and 6 weeks of training, but who did pass the test. What does that tell you about how they view professionalism?

The UFT view of professionalism is as narrow as you could get:

More money for teachers (not a bad thing but in our case, tied to longer days and school years, which is easy - and given the tremendous amount of increased responsibilities heaped on teachers - money for blood.)

The other plank of professionalism is a seat at the table for union leaders.

As to fighting for the right of classroom teachers to control what they do on the job, nada.

The idea as to whether to put money into massive accountability schemes and ignore class size is made by politicians, not educators. the UFT has gone along all along, paying lip service to class size for three decades (you'll notice the million dollar campaigns with petitions, etc has disappeared from the UFT's lexicon.)

That the UFT tries to call this a Union of Professionals is a joke.

Their idea is to give the union leaders a seat at the table while the rank and file gain little. The UFT can only gain this seat at the table by agreeing to be partners in the so-called reform movement based on standards and accountability. We know that the latter means "blame the teacher."

The UFT/AFT has been part of the public relations mantra used by Klein and Rhee that teacher quality is the most important element.

The first time I heard Randi talk about teacher quality, I immediately emailed her that she was walking into a trap. (At that time I actually thought she might be well-intentioned - silly me.)

That is why unless power within the union is shifted from the top, teachers will be given the illusion they are professionals but treated as drones.

The union has played this role: not as a strong advocate for teachers but as an intermediary between the so-called political reformers and the rank and file teachers, selling them mayoral control, merit pay, getting them to sign on to one way accountability (we don't want to make excuses, do we?)

Thus, teachers should not view themselves as professionals but as much a part of the working class as construction workers and teamsters.

In these times, that is exactly the type of union leadership teachers need. The type that will say, "Take yur stinkin' accountability and yur phony test driven curriculum and bury them in yur black robes."

My point is proved by these droppings from the Little Red Book of UFT high school VP and blogger in residence, Leo Casey from a post on a listserve.

We have had rather substantive critiques of the school progress reports and on their over reliance on test scores, but we are also political realists who take stock of developments in the real political world, and not just our ideal positions

While some think that there should be no differentiation for pay among teachers other than seniority and educational credentials, we do not believe that there is some special merit in such an industrial, proletarian view of teaching, and are quite willing to support the development of a teaching profession that allows for the development of different roles with special expertise, and provide additional financial remuneration for them.

Leo loves to use words like "proletarian." Sorry Leo. Your policies have made teachers more part of the proletarian proletariat than ever. I have a lot more droppings from Leo to report on. You can read the entire raw thread from the arn listserve on Norms Notes. But watch where you step.


NYC Educator said...

Ya know, when people use words like "professional" to describe teachers, they're often saying we ought to be professional enough to be fired at will by the likes of Klein. But we really are working people like all the other working people. We're not treated like doctors and lawyers and we never will be, as far as I can tell.

There's no upside to this "professional" label, as far as I can tell. So if that makes me proletarian, or whatever, so be it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the substance of your argument regarding teaching not being a true profession. But I do not blame any school district for this folly; I blame the the teacher unions thenselves.

Rather than tackle, and accept responsibility for, the standards of being a professional, teacher unions across the country act in almost no different way than traditional skilled labor unions. They fight endlessly over salaries, hours worked, terminations, benefits, and seniority. But gasp at the idea of actually overseeing that their members are fit for their jobs.

If you want to see a true professional union, look no further then Toledo. They actually take the professional responsibility for assessing (and removing when applicable) probationary teachers.

As for the need of "instant teachers" programs, at least they supply individuals with a high level of content knowledge to staff schools that would not attract them to teaching in the first place. It was not too many years ago (pre-NCLB) that NYC had recruiting centers stationed all over the city seeking those with minimal qualifications to staff schools others would never dream at teaching at.

As a member of both a national and local professional organization (including the ABA), I am well aware of my duty of care to my clients. I am also held legally responsible for any negligence I cause in my representation of a client.

Imagine if teachers (and the law) actually looked at students and parents as clients of a professional educator? And could file suit against an educator for "educational negligence/malfeasance?"

The perpetuation of teacher unions failing to act as gatekeepers and overseers of high professional standards in the classroom shall only serve to further the joke that the UFT is a "union of professionals." It's a union of self-serving individuals that fails to accept responsibility for high instructional quality in the community it serves.

When was the last time a UFT educator came into your classroom to provide feedback and/or remediation? And most interestingly, when was the last time the UFT took any action for a parent claiming that their child was ill-served by a member?

I would far prefer my professional peers to assess my competency, and if need be, remove me from the classroom if it was evident that I was not effective in professional duties and obligations, rather than having the haphazard "drive-by" observations of a single administrator provide minimal feedback and be given an "S" or a "U."

If we want to develop teaching into a true profession, the teacher unions will have to assume a far greater role in determining a teacher's efficacy and ability to educate the children and families we serve.

ed notes online said...

I think you missed my point when you stress the accountability aspect of a profession. My point is that the UFT/AFT has done the opposite of what you suggest by collaborating with the de-skilling of teachers.

I have no interest in professionalizing teachers or having my union help weed out bad teachers. I want more of the union you condemn. Why? Because I'm not cooperating in getting rid of bad teachers until I have some share in making basic decisions on what education should look like and in controlling my workplace.

There are plenty of mechanisms to remove bad teachers with cause despite the whining about tenure. If you think you will ever see an excellent teacher in every classroom in a 70,000 member teacher corps you are dreaming.

Improve conditions to the max and all boats will rise. Then let's look at the quality of teacher issue.

Anonymous said...

Professionals don't have unions.

ed notes online said...

I consider orgs like the AMA a type of union. Just try to get rid of a bad doctor. Or a bad lawyer. These guys have to commit a crime to be removed. Are we disbarring lawyers who lose cases? Or doctors who have a low cure rate? Or police who don't arrest enough people? The data on these people is no more valid than using test scores to judge teachers.
And don't throw the unproven value added crap around.

And there are engineers with unions and probably other professions too.

Anonymous said...

So much for the decentralization and transformation of governance. Surprised with this approach and Hillary Clinton was the first one on the stump yelling with her hand in the air,"end the mandates on NCLB,it's not working." God bless her for that and think we all worked it until the sun came up! The crowds in every city went wild everytime she said it ! See Voices Across America question # 1! Is there no administrative remedy in the real world ? What is going on with the decision making authority between different levels and actors in educational management? We've got systemic conditions and a lack of effective strategic steering. Go ask the teachers what they need and the principles under NCLB and a law unfunded ! The fascist dictatorship and gestapo is out and put that into the reauthorization and see Rhee reform. Oh no ! Heads up and you guys better check out the contractual terms of agreement and Abolishment Statute. Call me nuts but ready to have a national rally to oppose.Get the fire truck and marching band ! Check out the research going on with Monty Neil @ Fair Test. He's moving out on Public Accountability and transparancy for standardized tests. It's a multinational conglomerate and very little over sight. It may also be interesting that McGraw-Hill is an old family friend of the Bush family.We may need to get Mark Lauderdale to come in and work with some of these policy makers. He wrote the book,"Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People." No dings docking on the "Push Out" testing and listen to Dr. Woods,Linda Hammond and Noguera on video with,The Forum for Education and Democracy. To me, the vision is making good common sense for reform but these radical educational reformers are scary. After you read Rhee reform it's like the Twilight Zone. Not even sure my dog would eat the Rhee proposed contractural terms of agreement and may smell it and run.Laugh,it's the only thing free ! NCLB and that rat 10% on Pl 107-110. Punitive law that uses flawed standardized tests to label schools as failures and punish them with counter productive sanctions,assessments and accountability. The inequality it's caused and the unfairness of making decisions about individual schools based on test scores. BOO! Not to leave out backing up a great educational article the fact the NCLB testing created high costs and administrative challenges that have caused some states to abandon their performance assessments for machine scored multiple choice and tests less expensive to score. Connecticut sued the federal government for the funds needed to maintain its sophisticated performance. Dept. said drop the testing.Finland and Denmark viewing PISA and TIMSS results are soaring and they don't give standardized tests until students are in HS. They say it takes all the fun out of learning. The US is placed 19th out of 40 countries in reading,2oth in science and 28th in math.Sit down when you have a chance and read Manufactured Crisis and Developing A New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives by Guskey and Marzano. Guess I'm on the funding centrally and equally team in this ballgame.Jump ball,half court ! It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time,you can even fool some of the people all of the time;but you can't fool all the teachers all the time." Lincoln gets the credit but sneaked in a word. Thank-you and enjoyed your article ! Stay in the saddle and lean with the trees NY teachers !Just one more thing,it amazes me that here come the educational reformers under NCLB clearly,an unfunded law and can't find their school system audits for Public Transparancy ! Is the budget being driven from the bottom up ? Sick em Toto !Let's get these operational budgets consolidated with more of a formula break down in transparancy !

Anonymous said...

Multiple evaluators to eliminate bias ! That's what the Texas team is on and all the states are weighing in with reauthorization and raising T total hecks,bells and cocktail shells. These educational reformers in Public Education after this NCLB and 10% are going get slam dunked. We're losing 50% of our teachers within five years. Raise your hand if you're a principle in violation of state law, stessed out on AYP penalities and NCLB ? GS 115C-321! One announced,one peer,two unannounced and one summative end of year.Had a few awesome administrators and they evaluated with a scripting process of formula. Could tell you every word you said in an evaluation and then they plug you're score in.In Va. they had B-TAP in the 80's. Seven state evaluators came in at any given time and you either did it or you didn't and they checked whatever it was. Passed that but had a partner that didn't in her first year and she had to go to academic boot camp all summer.Ugh ! How many proceedual violations and disorganization is going on due to NCLB unfunded ? Enter sell Charter and special interests with high impact reports Public Education is failing.We'll rise from the ashes and make a come back ! Just hope to see fair balance of interests ! Audit all school systems and call the Phi Delta Kappa ! Publish results for data to compare areas to improve.Peers observe ? The new teachers need support and aren't making it and they cut the budget on mentors.Most of the pro's in the business are incredible. It takes time,on the job training and think that's critical for new teachers. You can walk into a school building and almost tell the pro's with the experience from the rookie's. Now they want to cut tenure from the ballgame. No ! Bubble that ! By the way,Arnie Duncan wanted to move all the gay HS students into one building and there was a big fuss about it. Honestly,what is that teaching about conflict resolution ? What does it teach about be who you are and show respect for others in a multi-cultural world ? Anyway,he wants to evaluate that on a national level and they announced it on CNN.

Anonymous said...

Obama is quoted saying," "There were not enough resources in NCLB to meet what is to be measured realistically; teachers were not involved in crafting this legislation;and modifications are needed on how we make assessments." We get a bailout package for Public Education and states can use it or lose it!Keep your eyes on where they put that money in your state.Don't let the green grass fool you on those contracts !Knock it out the park NY !Leave our Unions alone in Public Education please ! Team up and let's be # 1 globally !

Anonymous said...