Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What has the union done for me lately?
A: Your union provides numerous services and benefits. The services relate to representation. The union represents all certificated bargaining unit members (whether they are union members or not) during negotiations and grievances. Many times teachers will say, “I never knew what the union did until I needed it!” All of the myriad of benefits can be accessed through the CTA or CFT websites.
Q: Do unions protect “bad” teachers?
A: Absolutely not! The union simply monitors the district administration’s compliance with the employment contract. This means that due process is followed if any unit member is subject to dismissal or layoff. Some uninformed people will say that the union “makes it so difficult to get rid of a bad teacher that it is almost impossible to do”. This is pure nonsense. Many teachers are dismissed across the state every year. What is really happening is that the administration (who is responsible for evaluation and dismissal) simply does not want to do the job properly. If the administration follows the procedure outlined in the employment contract any teacher can be fired.
Q: What is “tenure”?
A: Tenure is a term that is frequently used to describe the employment status of a teacher. It simply means that the teacher is a permanent employee who will be reemployed after the summer break and cannot be dismissed without due process. It does not mean that the teacher has “guaranteed lifetime employment”. It is actually a misnomer when applied to public school teachers because it describes the status of professors in the university system more accurately.
Q: What will the union do about “bad” teachers?
A: The question is directed at the wrong organization. The union and indeed any teacher cannot by law evaluate any other teacher. Evaluation is the direct responsibility of the district administration. Teachers can be evaluated at any time by their administrative supervisors. In fact, state law requires that non-permanent teachers be evaluated at least once every year and permanent teachers once every two years at a minimum. In addition, we all know that any effective administrator should regularly visit all the classrooms under his or her supervision and have a comprehensive “feel” for how the school is functioning. If any supervising administrator feels that any teacher under their control is performing inadequately they can follow the specific procedures outlined in the employment contract ultimately culminating in the dismissal of the teacher.
Q; Why are teachers unions so powerful?
A: Any organization that has over 400,000 members has political clout. Any teachers union is only as strong as its membership. No educated adult is going to devote time, energy, and money to a cause unless they firmly believe in it. Teachers are a very independent group of people and there are no “union bosses” who can force them to do anything that they don’t feel is right for education and students.
Q: Don’t teachers have excellent perks since they have short workdays and summer vacation?
A: These are parts of the misconception that surrounds the teaching profession. Teachers have an official workday of 7 hours and 35 minutes, however that of course does not include all of the additional duties that everyone knows teachers have such as: contacting parents, grading papers, designing lesson plans and adapting curriculum to their students needs. In addition, teachers are not paid for any days they do not work. Yes, you heard that right! No pay for holidays. No pay for vacations. No pay for the summer. But of course, we all know that they get a paycheck year-round. Not correct. Teachers are paid ten times a year. The reason that they receive the same amount each of those 10 times is because their yearly salary is pro-rated over that time. Moreover, if a teacher doesn’t save for the summer or take another job that teacher will have no income for two months time! Indeed many teachers work second and even third jobs to make ends meet during the summer and more and more now have to do so even during the school year. (See the Teacher Survey about finances posted on this site.)
Q: Why are unions so greedy?
A: This question is often leveled by people who are uninformed about the collective bargaining process. It is probably fair to say that anyone who works would like to improve their salary, benefits, and working conditions. When this process is public and involves public funds it is much more scrutinized as it should be. However, it is also common sense to realize that the teacher in the classroom is the single most important component in the delivery of quality education. It also, therefore, follows that in order to attract and retain quality teachers (more than 47% of new teachers leave the profession in California in the first 5 years!) these issues are paramount. You get what you pay for.
Q: Why do teachers unions support the education of all these illegal aliens?”
A: The short answer is “because they are here”. Immigration is a federal responsibility and until the government in Washington acts we, as educators, have the responsibility to educate the students who attend our schools. Denying any student access to education is counterproductive in any community. Just ask law enforcement officials or local merchants if they would support a policy that allows hundreds or thousands of young people to roam the streets daily. What kind of labor force would be available to run our economy if large segments were denied an education?
Q: Are private schools so much better than public schools because of the pernicious influence of teacher unions?
A: First of all it is not true that private schools are always better. There are many high performing, distinguished public schools. In addition, some private schools are unionized. However the stereotype persists because there are many public schools with problems particularly in inner cities where many of the mass media outlets are located. In addition, there are many, many more public schools than private schools. Moreover, private schools can and do select the types of students that they will serve. Many of the students with specialized problems are simply refused admittance. Furthermore private schools require parental involvement, something that public schools cannot mandate. Finally, private schools can expel students who do not conform to their rules. All of these differences as well as the arcane school financing system contribute to create some public schools that are seriously troubled and need help. If this were to happen in the private system the school would simply close and its students would have to find places elsewhere, most likely in a public school. All of the above issues have nothing to do with unions. As a matter of fact teacher unions in California have been in the forefront to provide much needed supplemental funding for inner city schools.
Q: Why do the teacher’s unions dislike “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) and why is some testing such a bad thing?
A: First of all anyone who has been to school knows that teachers do not think that testing is a bad thing! This is an issue of the federal government meddling in an area it knows nothing about. Washington provides 10% of school funding but they would like to control 100% of the decisions. No wonder such diverse politicians as George Bush and Edward Kennedy support NCLB.
Here is a list of the problems:
1. Congress has never supplied the funding for NCLB that was promised in the legislation, but local schools have to comply with the mandates and therefore their budgets shrink.
2. NCLB mandates that 100% of students will be proficient in math and English by 2014. It doesn’t matter what year you select we all know that there is no place on earth where 100% of the students are proficient.
3. NCLB tracks subgroups like special education students (some with severe handicaps) and English learners (some who are very recent arrivals) and socio-economically disadvantaged students (some who have never been to school) and rates an entire school’s performance based on perhaps only one of those subgroups who may have performed poorly on standardized tests. In other words, if one class of handicapped students does poorly on the test, the entire school has branded a failure.
4. There is an over-reliance on standardized testing which forces schools to scrap programs like art, music, and even science because they are not tested and therefore do not contribute to the school’s rating. The idea of holding schools accountable for their performance is excellent and teachers have been doing that with their students since schools were first created. We have developed a fine school model for the industrialized age when a high school graduate could get a family-supporting manufacturing job almost anywhere. The problem is that was then and this is now. How do we adapt the system to 21st century needs? The answer is not more of the same but a complete restructuring of what a school is and what it provides for its community.