Sunday, April 2, 2017

Don't They Understand...?

The attempts to do away with teacher tenure. The work to break the teacher unions, resulting in lower pay and less job protection. The initiatives for driving down teacher pensions. The legislative moves to take away sick and bereavement leave. The continued scapegoating of teachers. Lots of teachers look at all that and ask--

Don't they understand that this is making teaching less attractive? Don't they understand that this is making it harder to recruit and retain good people in the profession? Don't they understand that they are pushing people out the door?

Do they get it? Do they get that making teaching a profession that provides less and less job security, less and less ability to support a family, and less and less respect makes it less and less likely that people will choose teaching as a lifetime vocation?

There are, I think, three answers:

No, because teaching is a calling...

Some folks believe that teaching is such a calling and teachers are so closely identified with their profession that a teacher can't choose to not be a teacher any more than a tall person can choose to be short. It simply does not occur to these folks that a person has a choice, that a person can decide to enter the profession or leave it (and if the person does choose to leave teaching, well, that just means she wasn't really a teacher after all).

So it doesn't matter what you do to the profession-- real teachers will always want to be teachers.

No, because teaching is just a lady job...

Some folks still think of teaching as a job that some nice lady does for a few years while her husband is the real breadwinner in the home. It's like a really convenient part-time job that lets them work the same hours that the kids go to school and make a little extra money to cover grocery shopping or a nicer vacation. But it's not a real job, and they aren't really depending on it for their families or anything, so the working conditions don't need to be all that great. It should be noted that there are some teachers out there who don't exactly help counteract this stereotype.

So it doesn't matter what you do to the profession because it's not a real profession anyway.

Yes, they know exactly what they're doing.

Too many folks assume that there must be a misunderstanding or failure to Grasp the Situation, because surely nobody would want to drive people out of the profession on purpose.

But teaching is being lined up for dismantling like many jobs before it. From car-building to meat-packing, corporate leaders have found financial savings in being able to replace skilled workers with assembly-line drones. Breaking down a profession has numerous advantages if you're in power.

Teachers who don't stay also don't get expensive pensions.

Teachers who don't stay don't become active union members. They don't start speaking up for changes or challenging management decisions.

Teachers who don't stay don't get raises.

For some folks in the corporate reform movement, the teaching ideal is a Teach for America model-- the teacher comes, works for a few years, goes away. That teacher is easily replaced because in this model, the teacher is just a content delivery specialist who delivers the teacher-proof curriculum-in-a-box, or switches on the personalized learning computer and helps the occasional student deal with an issue. The easily replaced teachers is cheap-- not just because she doesn't stick around long enough to need a raise, but because her health insurance and pension costs are minimal. And because all the teachers in the building are coming and going, they don't have a chance to band together and start making noise over anything from teaching conditions to wages to the mistreatment of students by administration. And the lack of job protections (no tenure, no seniority, one year contracts) means that anybody who does look like any kind of trouble at all can be removed. You'll want to keep around one or two "team players," whose decent salaries can be used as enticement for recruitment and who can be counted on to help you keep everyone in line.

That's the dream. Sure, it means that parents and students walk into school every fall to see familiar-ish faces gone and new strangers in classrooms. But so what? Isn't school about pumping test-prep info and skills into their little heads, and not relationships?

And as an added bonus, the breaking of the union helps negate unionism as a political force. From the local level, where teachers can no longer get involved in school board elections, to the national level where NEA, the largest union in the nation, has less political juice (though, as long as they keep doing boneheaded things like supporting the Common Core, backing Arne Duncan, and giving Clinton an early-bird endorsement without talking to the membership, the NEA is not necessarily a big, scary threat).

Teachers are generally reasonable, educated people and it can be hard for them to see when opponents don't share "obvious" values. Surely, we think, these people can't want to actually drive people out of the profession. But the signs are clear that some people do, in fact, want to remake teaching in a new image, just as Ray Kroc and the McDonalds brothers remade restaurant chefs into minimum-wage assembly line workers.

For the people who see education as a $600 billion egg just waiting to be cracked, converting the education workforce into an easily replaced, high churn, low cost labor force is a worthwhile goal. Will it provide better education for children? Who cares? Did the McDonalds worry about whether or not they could crank out gourmet food? No, the goal is to get the revenue flowing away from public school workers and toward private pockets while simultaneously making that work force more compliant, less troublesome, and more easily managed.

So yes-- they understand exactly the effects of what they're doing. That's why they're doing it. 


  1. Wow, as one of those teachers who has stuck it out for more than 30 years in the same district I find this article a little scary. Why, because I have seen much of what you write about happen before my eyes. I am an active union member and I speak up and question administrative decisions often. I guess I am a dinosaur. But I will continue down this path until I retire, which won't be for at least 3 more years!

  2. Lowering qualifications.

    Attracting the least qualified and most desperate to a job.

    Hiring people least likely to fight for better and safer working conditions --- safer not just for the workers, but for all concerned.

    Yeah, all of that worked out great for actor/comedian Tracy Morgan. WalMart, to save money, simultaneously lowered their qualifications for drivers, attracting the most desperate and least qualified, and less likely to challenged horrific working conditions.

    Then the inevitable happened:

    "The driver of the Walmart transport-truck, Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia, pleaded not guilty to one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. The complaint alleges (the driver) Roper dozed off and hit Morgan's limousine after swerving to avoid slowed traffic ahead of him.[29] It also argues that Roper had been awake for more than 24 hours before the crash.[30] A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that Roper had been on the clock since 11:20 Friday morning and was very close to the federal limits of 14 hours per day and 11 hours behind the wheel.[31]

    "On July 10, 2014, Morgan sued Walmart for negligence. The suit alleged that Walmart either knew or should have known that Roper hadn't slept for more than 24 hours. The complaint alleged that before his shift, Walmart forced Roper to drive from his home in Jonesboro to a Walmart distribution center in Smyrna, Delaware—a distance of some 750 miles (1,210 km) over 11 hours—even though there were several other distribution centers within a much more reasonable driving distance."

    Check out what "Miracle-on-the-Hudson" pilot "Sully" Sullenberger --- sounding like a teacher in today's world --- said about his profession while testifying to Congress:

    “Flying has been my lifelong passion, but while I love my profession, I do not like what has happened to it. My decision to remain in the profession I love has come at tremendous cost to me and my family.

    "My pay was cut by 40 percent and my contractual entitlement to a retirement pension was stripped away ... Airline pilots do not live in a vacuum, and we understand fully and are sympathetic to the fact that many Americans have recently experienced economic difficulties.

    "But, airline employees have been hit by an economic tsunami ... I attempt to speak accurately and plainly, so please do not think I exaggerate when I say that I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.”

  3. I love your details on this issue but feel you may have missed the larger issue: Jefferson told us an educated/informed citizenry was necessary for democracy. As media conglomerates have gobbled up the free press to eliminate an "informed" citizenry, so are, as you so eloquently state, qualified, dedicated teachers being denigrated and marginalized in order to eliminate real public education. I leave it to you to elaborate on this, however, I might point out that since one of the first groups to be "eliminated" by the USSR was the intelligentsia, might it not be a stretch to imagine what awaits the U.S.?