Up the Union

“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor –
Those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization
of the unorganized – do a disservice to the cause of democracy.” -J.F.K

Image: iStockPhoto

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the union talk that this post and this post generated. My twitter stream erupted in smart (and some not so smart) discussion about teacher intent, motivation, attitude and rights as workers. Then someone sent me this post.

As teachers we are torn. If we complain, we are perceived to be whiny and greedy. If we remain silent and do what we feel called to do without complaint, we get walked on and over by politicians and administrators.

In the past five weeks of school I have vacillated between political rage and heated debates about why I deserve better pay and why collective bargaining is vital to public school employees to just wanting to shut my classroom door and do the job I was born to do (because I believe teachers are born, not created).

Part of me is already burned out and when I realized a couple of weeks ago that I am halfway to my 30-years (when I can retire), part of me celebrated.

But a larger part of me cannot see myself doing anything else. I was born to teach.

I know lots of teachers who are just waiting for the opportunity to get out of this career. The pressures have become too much. The bad-mouthing by the media has become too much. The demands outside of just teaching the student but also parenting them and counseling them has become too much.

And I ask myself…if the “worst” were to happen…the dissolution of unions and the defunding of America’s Public Schools…would I keep teaching?  Would I stay in this career and go where the shifting tide takes me?

In short, yes.

I know this is both the downfall and triumph of my career.

It’s heroic that there are people out there who will stick with our children no matter what. I have been told this over and over and I am comfortable enough to accept this. I’m not bragging, I just know that from a very young age, my heart is that of a teacher’s.

The problem is that people like me are the reason politicians can do whatever they want. We will fight, but when we lose? We will still be here. We have to stay for the kids. That is the sad (or heroic…I’m not sure which) truth.

So what would life really be like for a public school teacher if unions were broken up and collective bargaining is thrown out?

You can just look at Wisconsin for that. An anonymous Wisconsin special education teacher and I have been chatting for over 2 weeks now via email about what her school year is like these days.  She is a trooper, but her reports to me have scared the crap out of me.

Her initial thoughts to my question about how has life as a public school teacher changed in Wisconsin since Governor Walker’s changes were pretty neutral. Not much had changed with her salary, but she was aware that if money was tight, she could be let go to hire someone new…whom they could pay less. She wasn’t too worried though, because she knows she’s a good teacher. Her particular district is taking care of its teachers despite pay freezes and other cut backs.

Once the school year was in swing, however, she sent me an extra note.

Because of Governor Walker’s cuts in funding and abolition of collective bargaining, my friend–a special ed teacher–no longer has any para-professionals in her class for three of her students who are so difficult to handle that they are dangerous to her, the other students, and to themselves.

Today, I sat in my room and cried during my lunch from helplessness after spending an hour with a single student who spit at, kicked, and punched at my colleague and I as we tried to get him to de-escalate. Yesterday, my other student screamed at me for 30 minutes, calling me every name in the book while nine of his special ed peers sat UNSUPPORTED in the classroom next door. Every single day, I am pulled away from my other students because of the three with extreme behaviors.  I’m expected to manage all of these behaviors AND teach seven other (LD) students to read and improve their math and reading scores with almost no aid support.

Teachers no longer have the ability to sit with their administrators and board of education and discuss a deal that would be beneficial for everyone.  Now, the teachers are at the mercy of whatever the administrators do to fit the budget, in this case it is to cut all support staff in an effort to save money.

In addition, today I began escorting one of my heavy-hitters to Spanish class, where I — instead of an aide, had to supervise him because his behaviors are too severe AND there’s no aid time available anyway. I was told by supervisors that this duty, not planning or communication with my fellow teachers needs to be my priority, so I am now down to one lunch period and 40 minutes every other day for planning and IEP writing.  I also attended a training this week at which I learned that I am to begin recording Attendant Care services I give to  my three tough-cookies so that the time can be submitted for Medicaid reimbursement. I guess I’ll be doing that recordkeeping [sic] during my “spare’ time.

Crucial time from this teacher’s day that she has previously used to plan best-practice accommodations for her special education students work on their IEP’s (Individual Education Plans), and communicate with other teachers who have her students and with the parents of these students has been taken with her so she can supervise one child while he is in Spanish class.

This is just one special ed teacher in Wisconsin. In a “supportive” district.

Can you imagine what an “unsupportive” district would look like?

It’s scary to think about.

But this is exactly what teachers (and parents and students) around the country should fear will happen to their public schools if collective bargaining is bagged.

Well it’s starting again, a turnaround friend
A movement of people that want to defend
Human rights, a fair wage,
A quick return to decent days,
Equality is in play,
Workers should organize without haste,
Have the vote in your workplace,
Work with your manager face to face*


  1. this post makes me want to cry katie. teachers are so very important and so under appreciated, it’s a travesty. you can bet your ass i’ll be voting yes on proposal two.

  2. It is heartbreaking to think about how lesser-privileged school districts are affected by budget cuts that are continuing. I love that you feel you have a calling, as I know that will get you through the next half of your career. What scares me is the fact that those who leave are going to be replaced by people who are less skilled, less qualified, and less driven, only to quit when they realize that teaching isn’t as easy as they thought–I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, sadly.


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