Sacramento Teacher of the Year Laid Off
The decline of Big Labor was highlighted recently at the Battle of Wisconsin, where powerful public worker unions failed to unseat Governor Scott Walker in spite of lavish support from a sympathetic media establishment and crowds of bussed-in activists from all over the country.
What happened in Sacramento, California shows why: In response to budget cuts, union rules forced the layoff of the “Teacher of the Year.” Quality of teaching doesn’t matter. Power to inspire students doesn’t matter. Good relationships with parents doesn’t matter. Only seniority matters.
What happened in Wisconsin isn’t about the benefit of Republicans’ big money, as the union leadership and their allies have been spinning it. No amount of money can convince voters to change their minds about fundamental things. And voters are increasingly viewing the damn-the-cost demands of union leaders and their self-serving work rules with resentment and even outright anger. These feelings are not “bought.” They are real. They are justified. And they are growing.
As sociologist Andrew Abbott has documented in his influential studies, the hallmark of a “profession” is the embrace of an ethic of service, a set of values that motivates members of the profession above and beyond the economics and “work rules” of a mere job. Teachers have long claimed to be “professionals” and many of them individually personify that status. They spend their own money to buy supplies for students who don’t have them. They spend long hours preparing and grading well after the school doors are closed and locked. They try endlessly to maintain a good learning environment amidst the pressures of social upheaval, poverty, misfortune, and the political pressures from interest groups from both left and right that want to use schools as forums for indoctrination rather than learning. They struggle amidst budget cuts that mysteriously leave union leadership and superintendents’ offices untouched even as classroom teachers are cut back. In short, there are many, many honorable and professional teachers laboring away in classrooms.
But teachers and their students are being betrayed by their union leadership, which is too often more interested in maintaining job security for deadbeats than encouraging good teaching. The current mindset of many teachers’ union leaders is, quite simply, unprofessional. It is an industrial era mindset that treats teachers are unskilled workers where only seniority (and the good will of the union leadership, of course) is what really matters.
As long as this mindset continues, the public backlash against public sector unions will not remain isolated to Wisconsin. Unions need to update their mindset and reform their work rules to identify and reward performance instead of mere seniority. If they don’t, they will ossify and die off, and they will deserve their fate.