Tuesday, July 10, 2018

What Kind of Teachers Applaud Janus?

I told you they existed, and here's one example, writing out the argument that I've heard before:

Some may call me a freeloader, because the union negotiates my salary each year despite receiving no money from me, but I feel that whatever benefit I receive from this service is outweighed by the fact that the union’s collective bargaining with the district puts me in a position to be unable to ask for extra income for stellar work.

The article, posted at the super-conservative Federalist, is entitled "I'm A Teacher. Here's Why I'm Cheering My New Freedom From Unions." The writer is Sarah Mindlin. Mindlin just finished her first year as a teacher in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She graduated from New Mexico State University in 2014 with a Bachelor in Individualized Studies that included coursework in Kinesiology, Exercise Science, and Elementary Education. She then earned a Master of Arts in Teaching at Western Governors University, an on-line school. Her LinkedIn profile says that she's "knowledgeable and excited about cutting-edge educational technology and self-paced learning."

It's not that she hasn't been tempted to join the union:

Our students’ lives include single mothers, numerous siblings, incarcerated fathers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, custody battles, and a rotating cast of stepfathers. The risk of a wild allegation from a parent or family member informs every decision we make, and the union’s assurance of legal and financial support is tempting, even for someone like me who disapproves of the political activities my dues would be supporting.

It's an unfortunate paragraph, suggesting as it does that she considers the need for legal protection given that she has to work with Those People. I'd like to assume that this paragraph is the result of infelicitous composition and not problematic attitudes about the public that she serves.

But like many teacher supporters of the Janus decision, Mindlin lives in an imaginary world.

I don’t think it occurred to me until hearing commentary on the recent Supreme Court case that without the union, I could actually negotiate my own salary with my employer.

Pro-union folks often scoff at Janus supporters as being only too happy to accept the benefits that the union has won for them, but that argument misses the mark, because many of these folks, like, apparently, Mindlin, see the union contract as holding them back.

... I feel that whatever benefit I receive from this service is outweighed by the fact that the union’s collective bargaining with the district puts me in a position to be unable to ask for extra income for stellar work.

Without the union holding her back, she could march into... well, somewhere, and demand a big fat bonus for her outstanding work. Now she can negotiate her own contract, and it's going to be awesome.

I'm not sure what scenario she imagines. She walks into the district office and asks for a bonus and the administration says, "Yes, wow! We'll get you a couple of extra thousand by cutting the pay of Mrs. Chalkdust who teaches next door to you. I'm sure she won't mind and this won't cause any problems at all." Or maybe they'll tell her, "Yes, you have been so tremendous that we are going to ask the taxpayers to accept a tax hike to finance your bonus."

She should probably take a trip to some right-to-work state and check out the many teachers who are now driving Lexuses (Lexi?) and eating caviar because they have been able to negotiate contracts far more lucrative than the union ever did. Or maybe visit Wisconsin where union-busting was simply the opening move in a deliberate program to lower teacher pay.

Fans of bonus pay in education always ignore one important factor. In the corporate world, bonuses are paid because we had a good year, and because we had a good year, we have a pile of "extra" money, and from that pile, we can pay bonuses. But public schools don't turn a profit, no matter how great a year they have, which means that the money for bonuses must come from somewhere else. An easy and common way to manage that problem is to make everyone's base pay lower; that way we can call this bunch of money that used to be part of your salary a "bonus."

Mindlin is also at a disadvantage because she doesn't seem to know how negotiating works:

Most teachers I know and with whom I work go above and beyond their job descriptions on a daily basis, despite knowing they will take home the same paycheck regardless of their efforts. Still, imagine the improvements that could be made to education if teachers were incentivized to go the extra mile and work at their highest capacity in return for more than just a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Do you see the problem? If in fact most teachers will go the extra mile for a warm fuzzy feeling, why would any employer feel the need to give them money? If you're negotiating stance is "I'm going to do great work for you no matter what, but you should give me more money just because I think I deserve it," then guess how much bonus you're going to get? $0.00.

If Mindlin is serious about this, then what she should be announcing is that from this moment forward, she is not going to lift a finger outside of school hours, not going to take a single paper home, not going to take a single extra duty, not going to go an extra foot, let alone a mile, until her bosses give her a nice hike in pay.

But Mindlin, like many others, imagines that she has some sort of negotiating power as an individual when in fact she has none. Heck, the very technology-based self-paced learning that she's such a fan of makes her easily replaceable with someone even less qualified. She's a "proud freeloader" because she thinks the union is depriving her of awesome bonuses and performance-based raises that she (who has exactly one year in the classroom) is certain she would be raking in. Oh, honey. You're so cute. Check back in a year or two and let us know how that self-negotiated contract thing is working out. I'm sure that in New Mexico, where teacher retention because of low pay is already a problem, districts will be falling all over themselves to shell out big bonuses for educators. And in ten years, when you're still making what you made this year, we can talk some more about the days when that mean old union forced you into a salary schedule.

People like Mindlin exist, and they're going to be leaving the unions in droves. It may be that nothing except an unpleasant collision with reality will bring them back, or they may never come back at all. But it will certainly take more than a pushy email or phone call from the union to bring them into the fold.

In the meantime, here's a fable. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful carousel horse. She had flowing hair, a beautiful saddle, and lovely shining decorations. When a child climbed up on her back and the music played, she would glide up and down, up and down, racing forward, the wind running through her mane. But the carousel horse was discontented. "If only," she thought, "I didn't have this big pole running through my belly. I feel that it's holding me back, and if I could get free of it... My mane is so beautiful and my saddle is so shiny, I just know that I could run so much faster than all these other horses." One day a man came and liberated the carousel horse, removing her from the post and leaned her up against a shed beside the carousel. At first she was very happy, excited about her new freedom. But then the next day the carousel started up, and the children climbed onto the horses and the music began to play and the carousel horse didn't move at all. The carousel spun past her, but she didn't move up and down, and no wind blew through her mane, and no children came to ride on her. She had failed to realize that what she thought was holding her back was actually carrying her forward.


  1. This young lady has a good deal to learn, but I'm familiar with a number of teachers including myself who, at the very least, aren't upset about Janus for other reasons. Teachers unions for too long have blindly supported the Democrat party and are vocal issues that have nothing to do with education. It's irritating to many.

  2. I am a 26 year veteran teacher, I have been heavily involved in my union in N.J.
    I do not know of any teacher in any state that has negotiated an individual contract that had better benefits and pay. Without being completely negative I think that Sarah is just too new to the profession to realize the importance of collective bargaining.

  3. I would love to post this in our teacher lounge (such as it is) for everyone to see, as well as beside every clock-in computer terminal. I would also love to give a copy of this to every new teacher we get until the end of time. Thank you for putting into words the things I find difficult to articulate.

  4. Let’s keep it simple for this wide eyed beginning teacher: turn in your resignation and go apply at the nearest charter school. Perhaps they will appreciate all of the extra hours and wonderful accomplishments you managed to achieve in your first year of teaching and are willing to give you a nice, fat salary. But while you’re at it, please give a nice, fat bonus to all of the teachers who mentored you, office folks who helped you out, and colleagues who gave you a shoulder to rest your head on when you were totally exhausted. Nobody does this alone, especially in our first three years as a teacher.

  5. I am in a Right to Work state and see these opinions all the time. Those kind of teachers, who think they deserve a reward for the "stellar work" they have done for a year or two, are usually gone by year five, if that.

    Come and ask a real teacher. A lot of us realize the importance of unions for all kinds of reasons. Except the delusional ones, who think that, "It's too expensive," and, "I'm a good teacher, so nothing will ever happen to me," and then come running to the union when something does go wrong. A lot of teachers, over the next few years, are going to learn about what it's like to be in Right to Work states, and it isn't pretty.

  6. Many years ago a fellow music teacher invited me to help start an instrumental music program one day a week in the Lower School at a local private school that didn't have one yet (I was only working 4 days a week at the time). Interview was pretty much the same as a stock public school interview - tell us your qualifications, experience, answer the usual questions about What If [X] Happens In Your Class - and then they *offered* me a pay amount. Had it not been commensurate with what I was making the other 4 days of the week in public school, I wouldn't have accepted so readily, and had this been more than a one-day-a-week gig and I'd had to also negotiate working conditions and benefits, I wouldn't have had a CLUE how to go about it.

    So sure, let the folks who think they can do better try it, and make sure we get their "success stories." I'm betting if anything folks will come away with a better appreciation of what unions do for them.

  7. People like Mindlin usually end up working as administrators for charter schools. That's where the big contracts are negotiated, behind closed doors, on the public dime.

  8. I worked in a non-unionized public library before I worked in schools. The only people who got raises when they asked were men. Women were told “I’m sorry, we don’t have extra money, maybe you should look elsewhere, all librarians with your education OR experience are paid the same.” None of these things were said or even “true” if the asker was a man. And male employees asked the director and got, and female employees asked their direct supervisor and did not, and when attempting to ask the director were referred to chain-of-command. I moved to schools to get better pay and a salary schedule because I saw this firsthand. It’s always the young or inexperienced who think they’re just better than the others and that they would be paid better if they didn’t have these meddlesome contracts in the way. They don’t realize the pay would never have even gotten to what they see as inadequate if there wasn’t a union negotiating it. They never imagine needing help because no boss would ever treat them unfairly, they are awesome! Nothing will make them value the union even if they find themselves in a bad situation because they have already defined those who need a union as weak, lazy, and untrustworthy. Therefore, in the NeverUnioners estimation, s/he is either totally different than those lazy union jerks whose perfidy has put them in this situation or s/he is a lazy jerk and deserves the treatement s/he receives. Bizarrely, they believe in the goodness and rightness of the authority and will hold to that even when they are beaten down unfairly by it. To acknowledge a need for collective support is to acknowledge the possibility of personal weekness.

  9. The Federalist is unabashedly ideological, which is how most of our journalism is these days. However, even the conservative teachers that I know would never write an article like this one. It's dishonest and completely one-sided. It's politics masqueraded by sloppy journalism. SAD!

  10. Fables are intended for children - not adults. I've been interested in your comment on Janus for a long time. The simple truth is that the market sorts out that which is demanded more or less all the time. And that includes non-profits. Yes, paying someone more may result in paying someone else less. But if a given teacher can consistently educate his students so much better than another, why shouldn't this be the case ?
    I know you've written extensively on the problems with the idea of a free market - that producers somehow only want the "right" customers - and will dispense with difficult students (or maybe costly teachers). But have you ever considered the market problem with a monopoly ? Historically, they provide poor service at high prices. Why ? Because despite your belief in the altruism of teachers, there simply are very few consequences for not performing.
    I agree that the breakdown of the teachers unions will likely lead to lower overall teacher compensation and benefits. The same happened when AT&T was broken up. But that does not mean we should allow monopolies to continue - no matter how saintly are the workers for that monopoly.

  11. Dear Mr. Greene:

    The core point of Ms. Mindlin’s article is that she ought to be free to negotiate her own salary with her employer. Actually, I’ve always thought that this IS the way it should be: the union negotiates for its members and non-union people negotiate on their own. But, I digress.

    As you point out, any public school budget is pretty much zero sum, and any extra money you put into one place has to come from somewhere else. So, Yes! When she marches in and demands a “bonus” because of her “stellar” work where she takes the “time and energy” to “prepare and execute exciting learning activities” instead of having students “complete premade worksheets for every subject,” Why, yes, they will cut the money from someone else, or ask for an increase in school taxes. Ha! Just Kidding!

    I checked out what grade level Ms. Mindlin teaches, and she teaches fifth grade. New Mexico uses the PARCC test, which is administered to the 3rd-11th grade, according to the Los Cruces District Webpage. So last spring she administered her first PARCC test to her students. The District explains in a “Letter To Parents and Gardians” that the results of tests will be available to parents sometime around December, which means they probably would have them for evaluations in the fall.

    According to the Las Cruces District Website, next year about 35% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based of the PARCC tests. I feel strongly that, when the PARCC results come in, Ms. Mindlin’s Principal will be telling HER whether she has done “stellar” work, and not the other way around. And the reward for her class getting any collective score on the continuum from “squeaking” all the way up to “stellar” will be that she will be a “continuing teacher” when contracts are handed out. She may also find out that the teacher who drilled students day after day with boring pre-made test prep did better than she did, and, if she asked, most of those teachers think they’d rather do something better than that, but teachers are told to teach to the test.

    I also think this article, published in the website of the Federalist Society is her “Writing Sample” submitted to the organization that, along with the Heritage Foundation, reputedly whispered the name “Brett Kavanaugh” into Donald Trump’s ear. Perhaps she will get a better position from some conservative think tank that likes her grit. But, again, I digress.

    Thank you,

  12. Good luck with those negotiations!