Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side' | Local Views | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side' | Local Views | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

I like this article because it compares the private sector to the public sector and debunks many myths related to the teaching profession.

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side'
I really do try to be open-minded to the "other side" of the teachers union argument. However, as a teacher, I believe firmly that we need someone looking out for our best interests, which is what our teachers union provides.

Michelle Malkin's op-ed is a prime example of why we need our union to continue to represent teachers and help protect teachers' rights ("Unions are after your wallet, not your child's interests," March 4).

There is a lot of misunderstood or misquoted information out there about teachers and the teaching profession. For example, teachers don't get three months of paid vacation.

All our time off, including holiday weeks, is unpaid, although our pay is amortized over 10 or 12 months, so it may seem that we receive paid time off.

We actually can be fired just like employees in the private sector -- with proper documentation and a step-by-step procedure moving from verbal warnings through written documentation and eventual termination. Tenure does not protect teachers forever and keep "bad" teachers in the workplace any more than bad employees in the private sector are protected after their probationary period ends.

The process for removal is basically the same. And, in truth, private sector employers knowingly keep "bad" employees on the job for a variety of reasons just as public employers do.

What tenure does is protect teachers from private-interest groups attacking us or removing us from our jobs due to our religious beliefs, sexual orientation or other issues at odds with what they may believe.

And, contrary to what is being passed on as truth to the public, we do not receive exorbitant retirement packages. In fact, we contribute to our retirement just like private-sector employees. Teachers will not retire rich.

We will struggle to make ends meet as the economic climate changes, just like retiring employees in the private sector.

What the public may not know is that, as a teacher, I cannot quit working with one district and move to another without losing all the years of experience (and corresponding level of pay) I've put in.

The most any district will honor when hiring a teacher is about seven years -- more than that is non-negotiable and less than that is likely.

If a teacher is willing to change districts and take the mandatory pay cut, he then begins at the bottom of the seniority list, thereby losing all protections of tenure or years on the job.

Without unions there to protect teachers, a job in a hostile district would become a life sentence or, at the very least, result in a life-changing move followed by a huge cut in pay (if a teacher could even get a job elsewhere).

In the private sector, it is possible to negotiate starting pay and benefits during the hiring process, and years of experience do count towards the level of pay one can negotiate.

benefits lost

So working in a hostile environment in the private sector could be resolved by getting a job elsewhere without starting over at the bottom once more. Additionally, the public is probably not aware that we lose rights to Social Security benefits we may have earned prior to (or after) entering the teaching profession.

What they may know is that we work more than an eight-hour day, grading home work at night and weekends, spending our summers at conferences, taking classes to better our teaching skills and preparing lessons for the upcoming year.

They probably know that we spend our own money, not only on teaching supplies, but on items that help out our students, including food and clothing.

I hope they know that there are far more dedicated teachers out there spending their own time and money to better the education and lives of their students than there are bad teachers stuck in the system taking advantage of their positions.

I attempt to educate people I come in contact with about what it is really like to be a teacher, both the pros and cons.

But when I come across someone as vicious as Malkin and the searing words she chooses to use to describe educators and the teachers union, it truly disturbs me.

Her vitriolic tirade against teachers is meant only to incite further anger and action against us. Her use of words is meant only to harm, not to educate.

Calling New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi a "fat-cat union official" and referring to the offices he works in as a "200,000 square-foot palace" are carefully chosen words meant to encourage agitation against those in the teaching profession, something she accuses teachers of doing to the public.

words meant to divide

Saying that "if public school teachers spent more time teaching in classrooms and less time community-organizing in political war rooms" the public wouldn't feel as "ripped off" are words meant to further build the us-versus-them wall that makes teachers appear to be the enemy -- of education, the public, and the country's future -- further dividing us from the rest of the populace.

These days teacher-bashing is at a peak. It rips out the hearts of those of us who dedicate our professional lives to teaching the public's children to read tirades such as Malkin's printed in papers across the country.

Teachers realize the current restraints of the economy and accept that it impacts our pay and benefits.

We are victims of the economic crisis right along with the rest of the public. Teachers in Wisconsin are willing to take the needed pay cuts and changes in benefits.

However, they want to continue to have the protection of the teachers union and collective bargaining, which appears to be direly needed based on what I've seen of their governor's actions and words.

give teachers a chance

We, teachers, are simply asking for a fair shake, which we address through our teachers union.

We are not the enemy. We are one of you. Don't believe what you read without carefully analyzing the bias and prejudice of the author.

Please take Malkin's words as those of a journalist who receives her pay and notoriety for writing from an extreme point of view -- not as the truth, as she would have you believe.

Don't allow her words to encourage agitation by you against those in the teaching profession.

Talk with teachers and listen to their replies. You will find that we are on your side.

Christa Biddle teaches English at Jurupa Middle School.

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