Friday, March 12, 2010

Tom Dooher must be shot II

the_spotty Dick Bernard of Woodbury earns a Spotty (tm) for his opinion piece in the Star Tribune today:

It seems, from a flurry of commentaries and letters in recent months, that it is again open season on public school teachers, and particularly their unions.

The mantra is always the same: the union is protecting bad teachers and it's against doing good things, like getting rid of supposedly lifetime no-cut contracts.

Hardly ever is there real evidence of these failings. To make the charge is sufficient evidence.

I plead guilty to having worked full time for 27 years as a teachers union representative (MEA/Education Minnesota). I am further guilty of having taught public school for nine years before that. Long retired, I now have seven grandkids in public schools and a daughter who's a principal of a large middle school.

I guess I know a bit about the subject at hand.

There is another credential I possess as well. I grew up (born in 1940) in the good old days when teachers had virtually no rights. Both of my parents were career public school teachers from 1929 through 1971. (Mom stayed at home raising her preschool kids for 13 of those years.)

We lived in small towns in a neighboring state. During my growing-up years (I'm the eldest sibling), we moved to eight communities. In each, Dad was called superintendent, but actually was a teaching principal, the administrator who was accountable to the local school board. Later, younger siblings followed my parents to two more towns, until the youngest graduated from high school in 1966.

My parents were outstanding teachers and outstanding citizens of their communities. I know. One or the other was my teacher for my last five years of public school. All five of their kids achieved at least a bachelor's degree and all have had long productive careers.

But we moved often, and very often that move was necessitated by Dad being fired, in one or another odd and sometimes innovative way.

These were the good old days of "at will" contracts. All it took was some disgruntled citizen who knew the right people to dispatch these outsiders at the annual contract renewal time. (In my files I have nearly every one of those single sheet "contracts" signed by my parents in their careers.)

Dad always took a philosophical view of the firings, but down deep, I think they hurt him deeply. Recently I came across an essay he wrote about the various ways he was fired during his long career. It was funny, in a very sad way.

Protections that are revolting to some -- things like due process, seniority, continuing contract -- came about because of abundant abuses in those good old days when the teacher was, literally, a "public servant."

It's much nicer to just label some generic teacher as "bad," and then to blame the evil union for protecting his or her right to due process.

I'd suggest that those who wish to eliminate teacher rights and defang teacher unions had best be very careful lest they get what they pray for. They would not like the results.

Are there "bad teachers"? Of course. Just as there are bad parents, bad executives, bad politicians, bad journalists. We know them when we see them.

Or do we?

Those seeking to get rid of seniority and the like can find more constructive ways to help public education.

Sadly, I'm not holding my breath.

Dick Bernard, Woodbury, is a retired teacher and union representative.

This op-ed is a good follow-on to Spot’s post Tom Dooher must be shot!

Remember, a Spotty (tm) is awarded for a letter to the editor, an op-ed piece, a blog post or comment that Spot wishes he had written himself.

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