I was reading the other night some of the history of school reform and I came up on a conversation journalist Steve Brill had with UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a NY Times piece on school reform in the worst days of the Barack Obama administration for teachers back in 2010. This little part is telling:
Next to Mulgrew was his press aide, Richard Riley. “Suppose you decide that Riley is lazy or incompetent,” I asked Mulgrew. “Should you be able to fire him?”
“He’s not a teacher,” Mulgrew responded. “And I need to be able to pick my own person for a job like that.” Then he grinned, adding: “I know where you’re going, but you don’t understand. Teachers are just different.”
I would think that someone who runs the largest union local in the country would not try to justify being able to fire people who work for him arbitrarily and then say "Teachers are just different." Brill made Mulgrew look like a hypocrite. Yes, the teaching job is different as we are qualified with professional degrees, certifications and licenses but no we're not that distinct compared to other civil servants President Mulgrew.
Teachers are government and union employees and we deserve due process and seniority protections just like other civil servants in New York have and few people realistically object to. The hiring and firing rules were put into place to stop the nepotism, cronyism, political patronage and other abuses that took place in government service during the 19th century.
The fact that the UFT gave up most of our seniority rights in 2005 resulting in the greatly expanded the Absent Teacher Reserve pool is a great stain on its history. The Union not being able to frame the appointment and seniority issues better for the public after twelve years shows how weak the UFT is.
Teachers today in New York City (and most likely in many other places) are subject to patronage hiring and in many cases arbitrary firing, but we still get criticized as if we are a bunch of lazy, incompetent people looking to get over on the system. Give us parking permits and the city better step up parking enforcement says the media. Talk about placing qualified Absent Teacher Reserve teachers in classrooms and the privatization groups and their friends in the press have a field day. We are still easily put down. The reality is teachers are hard working people trying to make a difference in the lives of students but are up against impossible odds.
Our experience should be respected and not dismissed. Here is some scholarly research you probably will never see featured in the Daily News, NY Post, Chalkbeat or most anywhere else in the mainstream press:
Under all three of the models studied, the researchers found teachers' ability to improve student achievement persisted well beyond the three- to five-year mark. While the teachers did make the most progress during their first few years in the classroom, teachers improved their ability to boost student test scores on average by 40 percent between their 10th and their 30th year on the job, the study shows.
Clearly experience, or dare I say seniority, matters.
Fair student funding has to be exposed as the anti-seniority tool it is in New York City schools. Parent activist Leonie Haimson took on the issue yesterday. Leonie also showed the link between more experienced teachers leading to better student results back in 2011.
We need to get back to basics which means demanding a fair civil service system at the Department of Education for hiring, transfers and promotions. Time to implement and enforce competitive exam based hiring and promotions based on how well one does on the exam like just about everyone else in government does. While our job requires specialty skills that are unique to teaching, in many ways we are much more like other government workers than we are different. There needs to be a check on principal authority over school hiring including transfers just as other government agencies have for their managers.
The UFT's slogan is that we are "a union of professionals." In reality, we are not treated as professionals so we better start again defending ourselves as civil servants. Teachers must organize to show once again we are a real force to be reckoned with.