If someone offers you the opportunity to get a "B" average in school and guarantees that you can do so without learning more or working harder, would you take the deal? My hunch is that students getting "C"s will. Students getting "A"s probably will not.
I recently became the first person, out of 240 active members, to resign from my teacher union. Among other things, I got tired of taking the deal. For decades, public school unions have convinced good teachers that without representation, we'd be getting "C"s. But I think I'm an "A-" teacher. I want the opportunity to be paid and recognized accordingly. And I welcome motivation to improve and reinvent my practice, just like my students will have to do in their professional lives.
I'm not naïve. I know teachers and students benefit from gains that unions have made and continue to make. But the bad outweighs the good. Many of my colleagues feel the same way, but the old guard is loud and the newer teachers don't care about the union enough to affect change. It took 10 years and $10,000 in dues before I finally questioned where my money is going and whether it's improving the quality of education in the United States, or just protecting jobs and maintaining the status quo.
It's surprisingly difficult to resign from a union, especially in California, a non-right-to-work state, which means that if a union exists, employees must contribute money to support it. But I'm finally a union nonmember. I still have to pay some money to the union, but I get a $400 rebate check from my dues each year. More important, I get to have conversations about performance-pay, dissolving tenure and letting students evaluate teachers — traditional union "non-starters."
Anyone who thinks teachers have it easy — even the "C" ones — is wrong. Full stop. But unions don't do a good job of motivating and training the existing workforce and they hamper the recruitment of new talent. There are a lot of "A" teachers in this country. And a lot of "A" people who will enter the teaching profession when they don't have to take the deal and settle for a "B."
With a Perspective, I'm Jeff Castle.
Jeff Castle teaches at Albany High School.