The Consequence of Unions

By Jordan Gasper

Is sending your kid to a public school a mistake these days? In a modern society of workforce union backing, many public schools around the state of Michigan have evolved into enormous political machines. Teachers constantly talk about distractions from the education process, while in fact, some of those very teachers are adding to the biggest distraction of them all: teachers unions.

First and foremost, I can confidently say that Birmingham Public Schools has given me a prodigious education over the past 12 years. Trumping most private schools, I am fortunate enough to have received the education I have received over the years. The knowledge that I have accumulated is second to none. The relationships I have had with teachers are exceptional, and the connections I have made will last a lifetime. For this, I thank all the wonderful, well qualified, and dedicated teachers I have had.

With that said, it is hard to ignore the flaws in the nation’s public school systems. In my final three years of high school, I have noticed some of those flaws. One in particular is teachers who don’t have the belief that their best interest should be the success of their students. In fact, I have experienced situations where teachers will blame a student’s lack of prosperity on the student themselves, or even their parents. While in some circumstances this is true, I have found that in the majority of cases, it is not.

Seaholm’s ACT average is nearly 5 points above the national average, we have a staggering 99% graduation rate, and we are ranked the #5 public school in the state (usnews.com). We take innumerable amounts of AP Exams compared to other public schools. Scheduling rigorous courses and attending highly appraised colleges, Seaholm students clearly have shown exemplary statistics in the academic and extracurricular field.

I have found that many teachers use a myriad of excuses, but will refuse to take any of the responsibility of the lack of their student’s success. Obviously, every once and a while a teacher will get a student who isn’t inclined at all to succeed in school. However, who is to blame when test and class averages are in the C range? Especially at a school whose metrics demonstrate that the student body is well above average.

Tenure is the status granted to a teacher after so many years on the job along with supposedly “excellent” performance. Receiving tenure, the individual’s job is more secure than others without tenure; also they are considered to be more senior in pay and promotions. Depending on the school district, a tenured teacher is also more protected by the union than non-tenured teachers are- making it very difficult to dismiss a teacher. In K-12, tenure isn’t really earned. It is granted to teachers who “stick around” for a period of time. In a recent study, data collectors found that only 1% of new teachers around the nation were rated unsatisfactory (teachertenure.org). This means that in grade school, 99/100 teachers would qualify tenure as long as they are employed for the period of time required by the tenure requirements.

Tenure was originally designed to help prevent hard working teachers from being fired without justification by their unfair bosses. Initially being very effective, tenure has evolved into an ineffective process, hurting those it was meant to protect. This evolution has created much controversy around the country. Stated in 38.101 Article IV of the Teachers’ Tenure act of 1937, “discharge or demotion of a teacher on continuing tenure may be made only for a reason that is not arbitrary or capricious and only as provided in this act”. Taking away the subject of individual will to dismiss a teacher, administrators have to review and abide the Tenure Act to see if their reason for dismissal is addressed. This is where tenure becomes an abusive power and negatively impacts the education process. Basically, it just about takes an act of god to dismiss a teacher. An example of this recently made headlines across the nation.

Unfortunately, tenure is making it difficult for the Goodrich School District in Goodrich, Michigan to dismiss Nicole McVey, a tenured teacher at Oaktree Elementary School. McVey had an 11 year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome in her class. He got his head stuck in a chair during the daily lesson. McVey teased and harassed the boy while he was stuck in the chair, rather than helping him. During the ordeal, McVey asks the struggling boy if he wants to be “tasered”. Even worse, when the principal was called to help and arrived at the classroom, he unrepentantly said “this isn’t really an emergency in our book”. The entire act was videotaped on a cellphone. Shockingly enough, the paraprofessional and the teacher flaunted the recording with members of the community. This was a derelict of duty, yet the teacher is still employed and protected by tenure and the union.  The principal has since resigned knowing he was culpable.

When is enough, enough? What happened in that classroom was borderline criminal, yet the teacher is still employed. What does it take? This is completely preposterous to the rest of the workforce. In fact, it’s almost laughable; but in reality, it’s disgusting. Because of tenure, principals and administration are paralyzed in managing ineffective and/or problematic teachers.

When a teacher isn’t ousted for demonstrating unethical behavior towards an autistic student, it seems it is nearly impossible to get a teacher fired on job performance. Even if the student body and parents raise questions regarding the teacher’s effectiveness, it has minimal impact on the teacher’s evaluation. If a teacher can’t be fired in a heinous situation such as Goodrich School District, then there is no credence to a student’s or parent’s opinion of a teacher’s effectiveness.

As cited earlier, there are a minimal amount of students at Seaholm who truly just don’t care about their education. Undoubtfully, some classes may have one or two of those kids. However, when concentrated classes as a whole are doing poorly in a college preparatory class, one has to look at the core of the issue, and not continue to put blame on the students. Some teachers use students’ lack of desire as a scapegoat to their ineffectiveness; rather than conducting self-reflections on their level of effectiveness as an educator. I have first handedly talked to an extensive amount of students who are very successful in a particular subject in school, but struggle in those classes once they get a teacher who clearly have inadequate teaching skills. I for one am one of those students.

I personally feel tenure can potentially promote laziness among some teachers. In any other profession, if someone isn’t meeting the criteria of their job, they will be fired. However, a teacher’s job performance rarely leads to firing. It truly seems to take a criminal act.

How is this fair? Frankly, it is the biggest distractor within the education process. Why should a student have to suffer due to an inadequate teacher and have to supplement the learning process by paying for a tutor? Or even worse, failing the class? Candidly, it is ludicrous that just because a teacher has worked for a school for X amount of years and makes Y amount of dollars they literally can’t be fired.

Collectively, I think fondly of unions. Union’s effectiveness date back to the early 20th century, protecting workers from dangerous work conditions, and being harassed by their employers, both physically and verbally. I know this because my grandfather was the head of the union for Great Lakes Steel. He has shared many stories with me that have demonstrated the need for a governing body to protect employees; thus, the need for unions.

Indirectly, unions created the middle class. I am not suggesting teachers unions need to be abolished. I am saying that they need to be reformed. The tenure policy creates an unfair advantage to ineffective teachers, and a disadvantage to the administration. It also is a disservice to those teachers who are high performing, effective, and go beyond the call of duty to ensure their students’ success. Tenure or not, these teachers end up carrying the burden and work load of the ineffective teachers. Coming from a blue collar family, and an experienced background in administration, Assistant Principal Ali Hamka’s response to the effectiveness of unions is informative from an administrative point of view. “It helps protect staff and hardworking employees. This is the reason unions were created” said Hamka. Paralleled to my view, Hamka highly respects the fundamentals of what unions represent. Although we agree on the basic purpose, I believe that as unions evolve into political machines with the power of lobbying, they have now become counterproductive.

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