Set Adrift by Traditional Allies, Teachers Move to Reclaim Their Profession

I have seen multiple postings recently pertaining to seeing teachers as separate from their unions. I witness this unfortunate truth daily. I hear people say all the time that they love the teachers, but hate their unions. I heard it proclaimed at school board meetings during times of cuts. I now hear it from teachers who have long been so apathetic about their union membership that they no longer understand how citizenship in the organization has shaped their day-to-day teaching lives.

Eventually teachers will have to own that teachers are the union–teachers make up the elected representative councils, board of directors, and officers at the local, state,and national levels. NEA President-Elect, Lily Eskelson Garcia, is an elementary school teacher and former Teacher of the Year from Utah, NEA VP-Elect, Becky Pringle, is a middle school science teacher, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel is an award winning school counselor, Torrance Teachers Association Secretary Treasurer Don Hendricks is a veteran Government teacher and former softball and basketball coach. The union’s elected leaders are teachers–and many of these teachers, particularly at the local level are in the classroom full-time. So once teachers acknowledge that teachers are the union and not separate from the union, then the policy makers who think they know so much more than the teachers do will have to own that they are indeed attacking each individual teacher when they work to weaken teacher protections. They will have to own that when they attack the unions, they are attacking the very workers that the unions represent. And they will especially have to own their predatory actions like with the Vergara v. California trial in which a judge (no jury) simply decrees that opinions presented as evidence must be truth and California’s teacher protection laws must be unconstitutional.

The National Education Association Representative Assembly fired the first salvos of severance from traditional support of the democratic party leaders at the NEA-RA this past week when the 9,000 delegates supported resolutions calling for the resignation of President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (both of whom have long been allied with many of the people listed in the following paragraph). Duncan’s response was to again separate teachers from their union leaders by saying, “I always try to stay out of local union politics. I think most teachers do too.” 

The group supporting the Vergara case, Students Matter (very similar in name and concept to former Washington DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s Students First), is funded (and was founded by) in large part by billionaire tech/communications entrepreneur David Welch, as well as the founder of Parent Revolution (a group that organizes parents to revolt against public schools and replace them with charter schools) Ben Austin. In Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog “Why Many Democrats Have Turned Against Teachers Unions,” Strauss maintains that this separation of union members from their profession has worked in multiple professions to gut worker protections, but we are seeing it play an role changer in traditional political allies for teachers. Teachers now see the Michelle Rhee’s, the David Welch’s, and the Ben Austin’s joining the Bill Gates’s, Eli Broad’s, and Davis Guggenheim’s of the world as the media and party “experts” on education. Politico’s Stephanie Simon and Caitlin Emma highlight the relationship between Sec’y Duncan’s Department of Education and these self-proclaimed education “Reformers” (many educators differentiate between capital R Reformers–also called Rhee-formers–and lower case reformers to equal corporate Reformers and educational reformers from within the profession) as being at the heart of the growing schism between educators and the Democratic Party. 

These anti-union corporate Reformers have grown increasingly bold in the aftermath of the Vergara v. California case as well. They have begun to purchase full page ads in national papers like USA Today accusing teachers of treating kids like garbage and calling for parents and kids to sue teachers to circumvent the legislative process–break them politically by breaking them financially. 

These groups, like Rick Berman’s so-called (and deceptively named) Center for Union Facts that funded this ad, smell blood in the water. And they are shamefully getting the “atta-boys” and high fives from the current administration in Washington. Instead of the head of the Education Department relying upon educators and educational research, he has surrounded himself with lobbyists, entrepreneurs, and privatizers who want nothing more than to dismantle public education rather than reform it. 

So again, NEA took charge at its RA this last week. They are publicly calling out all “Reformers” who continue the failed testing policies of No Child Left Behind that penalize teachers, schools, and communities for economic inequities that the schools were never adequately funded or supported to address. NEA also adopted a resolution to end “toxic testing” that does not support student growth–and in many cases has been demonstrated to harm the very students it claims to help. Even though NEA is slow to get to this critical point, it is a promising move toward leadership that has long been muffled by political alliances that have proven detrimental to the profession. NEA, and its fifty state affiliates, will now focus on who is with us  or who is against us–and if you are against us, don’t come looking to us to be the instruments of our own demise. Teachers–and unions–are tired of being scapegoated for failed education policies that were designed to fail us all from the start. Teachers–and their unions–“support high standards for all students and being held accountable for high quality instructional practice, something that can’t be measured by students’ standardized test scores. More and more educators are leading the way toward ensuring the highest quality work forces by working collaboratively with school districts to establish residency programs, mentoring programs, and peer assistance and review programs to evaluate instructional practice.”

Teachers are pushing back to take charge of their work environments–our children’s learning environments. And it’s high time.

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