No mainpaging, please.

I just read the friendzone letter on the mainpage about the teacher who was physically threatened by a student's parent. I was pleased that 1) the teacher belongs to a union and 2) that the teacher was advised to seek out his/her union rep.

See, here's the thing. The media/education "reformers" love to trash talk teachers' unions. Often, the media/education reformers express frustration that unions + tenure = teachers who are impossible to fire. Many politicians are working to end the power of teachers' unions and to eliminate tenure.

Myth 1: Unions serve no purpose/unions are what's dragging down education/unions only serve the teachers/insert any other UNIONS!!!!!!2342!!!@#! stuff here.

Well, yeah, unions serve to protect their members. The friendzone letter shows why, exactly, a teacher's union is important. Remember: teachers' working conditions = students' learning conditions. Not only do we have a professional who is being threatened with violence in the workplace, but we have a situation in which a parent who is threatening violence is being permitted in the building to threaten staff. Students pick up on that crap. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that that student has told others that mom has threatened the teacher. This can make other students feel unsafe in addition to making classroom management very, very complicated for the teacher.

Some administrators are great. Some leave you wondering how they ever got a position of power. My current admins are excellent; at my previous school, a principal allowed a student who had just physically assaulted me to verbally abuse me as well. The only support I was given in that situation was from other staff members and my union. My union helped me look into the procedures for taking a leave of absence. My union also questioned the very light punishment the student was giving for assaulting me. Unions can also ensure that rules regarding class sizes, school climate, teacher workloads, etc are fair and followed.

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Myth 2: Having tenure means that a teacher cannot be fired.

This myth is only tangentially related to myth 1, and it is 100% incorrect. Tenure, which is usually earned after 3-4 years in the same district and usually in the same position, serves many purposes, but it does not protect teachers from being fired. Before attaining tenure, it is very easy to remove a teacher from duty for pretty much any reason by simply not renewing the contract.In addition, tenure is not granted automatically. Teachers must be observed and evaluated multiple times during their probationary period in order to be recommended for tenure; it's not a matter of just biding your time for 3 years. If you switch districts, your tenure "clock" resets to zero (this is true in at least both of the states where I have taught).

What tenure means is that for a teacher to be fired, he or she is allowed due process. The supervisor or administrator must show that the teacher has failed to perform in some way. There must be a paper trail demonstrating that 1) the teacher has failed and 2) the administrator has tried to remediate the issue (though this might not be true everywhere).

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This is for several reasons. First, this protects the teacher against baseless claims or retaliation from administrators, students, or parents. It also prevents districts from ridding themselves of seasoned (and more expensive) staff members in favor of inexpensive new hires. Tenured teachers are still observed, must still fulfill all their professional obligations, and can still be removed due to school cuts, etc. I've been in a number of schools, and I have seen tenured teachers fired. It happens. If a principal tells you they can't remove a teacher because the teacher is tenured, they are not being honest. If a principal tells you they can't remove a teacher because of the union, they are not being honest.

So what would we have left if tenure and unions were eliminated? Would we have a paradise of student achievement and creative learning?

All signs say no. New Jersey and New York, for example, have very strong teachers unions and high student achievement. The data does not support a negative correlation between teachers attaining tenure/having union protections and poor student achievement. Also, see the Gilded Age and how well that worked out for employees.

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So union up, friendzone person. This is why you pay your dues.