Tag Archives: Teaching

Teachers — Drought, Unions and Agency Fees

Our local papers, the LA Times and the OC Register have had several articles (news, ed and op-ed) about teachers and unions the last couple of days:

  • Orange County’s Teacher Drought — OC Register – 1.9.16
  • High-stakes showdown for union-backed Democrats — OC Register – 1.10.16
  • Mandatory union dues trample First Amendment — OC Register – 1.10.16
  • Interests seek to silence teachers — OC Register – 1.10.16
  • They’re not in the union, but pay anyway — LA Times – 1.11.16
  • Teachers union case goes before the Supreme Court — OC Register – 1.11.16

The above list excludes articles on the LAUSD search for a new superintendent and anything dealing with charter schools.

Bias

Like most people I am biased in my feelings about unions, dues and agency fees — I do not like them, but I believe they are necessary. The individual working man or woman has no power — as an individual. The only way for them to have an impact on an employer is as a member of a group. Call it an association, an organization or a union, the name, except as an emotional button to push, does not matter.

My father was a printer for most of his life; he worked at the LA Examiner and the LA Herald-Examiner. The paper was unionized and the union served to protect the workers. But even a good local union cannot protect against the financial might of a major national corporation. The 1960s strike against the Hearst Corp. destroyed my father’s union.

The last few years before that strike, he had been working a second job as a parimutuel clerk at Southern California race tracks, living out of his pick-up truck/camper in their parking lots five days a week — an eighty-hour-plus work week. When his union was broken, he had just accumulated enough seniority to begin working the tracks full-time, or we’d have been in real financial straits. He supported that union too — I even walked picket lines with him when they went on strike.

History

Historically, the individual worker, be he free or slave, has never had any power. Accept what is offered or move on. A boss, be he (or she) an individual, an organization or a government will always try to get the most for the least. Anything else is seen to go against their own economic self-interest.

Organizations of workers, farmers and slaves who have sought to re-dress their grievances have been put down by private guard forces and government troops. It happened in ancient Rome, medieval Europe and in nineteenth and twentieth century America.

Those who have to deal with unions (as opponents) detest them, or grudgingly accept their presence and would prefer to deal with individual workers rather than a group of them.

Have you ever told your child, “No, or “Because I said so,” when asked a question? Can you imagine your boss’s response to questions involving hours, salary, health benefits and time off without a contract or labor laws?

Employers and corporations, and their associations do not exist to benefit the worker.

Teachers and Unions

Our teachers are intelligent, hard-working and well-educated. Yet, no matter how intelligent, how hard-working or how well-educated an individual teacher is, he or she is still a single worker, on a par with a janitor or clerk, as far as a school district employer is concerned.

Many Orange County school districts employ more than a thousand teachers. Imagine you are an individual teacher working for a district without a teachers’ union or union contract. Imagine negotiating your own individual contract, salary schedule, work load, etc. Imagine enforcing that individual contract should your employer do something you believe is not in accordance with what you thought you negotiated. Who has the final say, you or the district?

Are you prepared to go to court as an individual against an employer of thousands or, maybe, just quit your job?

Teachers, and other workers, need unions to protect their interests. An individual worker, no matter how intelligent, hard-working or well-educated, has little or no power to bring pressure on an employer, especially an employer of thousands.

Are you a teacher? Think of life without a union contract:

  • Five new students are added to your second period English class — it now stands at forty-three and is the smallest of your six classes. “But when you hired me, you said none of my class would have more than thirty students.”
  • Remedial classes are needed on Saturday — you’re selected to teach two of them.
  • Parents complain that you grade too harshly and are not “fair” to their children.
  • You have a disagreement with the principal and she, or he, terminates you.
  • You want a raise.

Nature

“Nature,” taken as a whole, does not care about the individual. An ant, a bee, a gnu, a person means nothing. Colonies, hives, herds and species do matter. An individual clerk at Target or Wal-Mart means “nothing” to the corporation (despite their lip-service to the worker’s rights and value) as long as the work gets done and the profits roll in.

An individual janitor, clerk or teacher means nothing to a large school district as long as the classrooms get cleaned, documents are filed and children taught.

Contracts, Dues and Agency Fees

A contract is an enforceable legal document. It is not enforceable by an employee as an individual. It takes, unfortunately perhaps, legal experts, lawyers, judges, hearings and trials. Individuals and organizations, both those for and against you, must be paid. If your organization, union, does not do so, the burden falls to you alone.

Union dues and agency fees pay for these services. If no one pays for these services, these services do not exist.

Can you as an individual afford the time and money to both negotiate and enforce a contract with your employer — your school district? Think about it.

If you believe yourself to be an exception, that you shouldn’t have to pay an agency fee to your union, do you also believe that the union should not have to enforce its contract with the school district in regards to you? If the union has to enforce the contract in regards to you without your dues or agency fee, that means that other school district employees, the other teachers at your school (your friends and colleagues?), and at the other district schools, are carrying you on their backs and paying for your representation — you’re accepting their charity.

Think about labor laws, OSHA, the five-day work week, the eight-hour day. Do you believe they arose out of the goodness of the government’s heart, or perhaps, those of the robber-barons and mega-corporations? No, they came out of the political pressure exerted by workers and their unions and were financed by the dues of union members.

Right-to-Work

What about my rights to only belong to groups, associations, that I desire. Why should I be forced to join a union? I don’t believe in them.

Do you really believe this to be to your advantage? Think about things realistically.

It is to the advantage of bosses, employers and owners to belong to voluntary associations to further their ambitions. What are their ambitions? To keep and enhance their discretionary power over employees and customers and to increase their profits. They do this through their “contributions” to advertising budgets and politicians.

Advertising to convince you that they have your best interests at heart. Do you believe that the health care industry really cares for you? Have you had to deal with them as an individual? Contest a charge? Get an expensive, non-covered prescription? An out-of-network doctor? Five, ten or fifteen percent increases in coverage costs year after year?

They are profit driven like every other corporation.

But, they’re supposed to be non-profit. Yeah, have you seen the salaries and perks of those who run them?

All of these organizations, corporations and associations hire lobbyists and contribute to politicians. Do you think they do so to further the interests of their workers and customers? No, they do it to increase their power and profits.

An individual worker cannot do this by himself or herself. Workers need to band together to accumulate the money and voting power to contest the economic and political power of those currently in control. They aren’t going to help you because you are a good person and deserve it — that would cut into their profits, and do you really believe that is going to happen?

A “right-to-work” state is one in which an individual is free to deal with government entities and corporations as an individual and not as a group.

A “right-to-work” law is one which guarantees that government entities and corporations do not have to deal with workers as powerful groups but as nearly powerless individuals.

Belief in “right-to-work” laws and their attendant advertising (propaganda?) merely cements the control of mega-corporations and the ultra-rich over the government and, hence, the individual.

Individuals, working as individuals, are never going to be able to accumulate the money necessary to contest in the political arena with the rich and the corporations.

To believe otherwise is to confess to a naiveté that is simultaneously based in fantasy and ultimately suicidal — in both an economic and a political sense.

Conclusion

No, you are not going to agree with everything your union does. (I certainly didn’t.) Your union is not, and will not, be perfect — no organization composed of fallible types like us human beings ever will be.

But, remember this, the union is not some far off entity that exists outside of you — you are the union. The more you participate, the more the union reflects you and what you believe. Get involved. Use the dues and agency fees your union collects to enforce your contract and pursue the kind of life you want for yourself, your family and your students.


PS: I was going to concentrate on the “Teacher Drought” article. Ah, well, maybe next time.

Immigrants, History and Culture

We are all either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Some of us are recent immigrants, within the last few years or decades, and some of our families have been in their current homes (country, state, province, city) for generations and centuries.

I was born in California about fifty miles from where I now live. My wife was born in England and has lived in the U.S. for forty years. Although my mother was born in Minnesota, her parents and some older siblings came from Sweden. My father came from Missouri where his family had lived since at least the 1790s (originally coming from France).

Those of us who live in the United States, and are not descendants of Native Americans, are either immigrants or the descendants of those who came here in the years following the European discovery of the Americas by Columbus’ expeditions in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Native Americans are also the descendants of immigrants, but immigrants who came here millennia ago.

Some of us came willingly, even eagerly. Some of us came as refugees, forced by circumstance to leave our ancestral homes. Some of us were brought as indentured servants, criminals or slaves. In one form or another people still come to the United States for most, if not all, of these reasons.

The same is true of people and nations all over the world. Australia was colonized by Aborigines from Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, people who left Europe for a brighter future and criminals exported from the British Isles. Refugees have fled Syria and Somalia for Europe and America. Vietnamese fled South Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in 1975. In the 1840s the United States stripped Mexico of one-third of its territory and since then millions from the remaining two-thirds have come here legally and illegally. (Of note to some may be the historical reminder that there were those Americans in 1848 who wanted to annex all of Mexico. Maybe, that would have solved today’s immigration problems?)

The point is that, as we now understand it, all of our ancestors came out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Wanderlust, population pressure, and warfare have caused us and our ancestors to be refugees and immigrants time and again. Groups have intermarried and interbred again and again over that span of time–there are no pure nations, races or ethnic groups.

The Egyptians of today are not the Egyptians of Cheops’ or Ramses’ or even Cleopatra’s era. Italians are not Romans; Mexicans are not Aztecs. We are not just the great-grandchildren of the Puritans and the Pilgrims. We are the sum total of all who have come before. Caesar and Constantine might not understand us as individuals, but they would recognize our multi-ethnic society–an amalgamation of people from all over the world creating a culture that would be the envy of the world.

And I have gradually come to understand that it is the culture that is important–not religion, language or race. My great-great-grandparents in pre-Civil War Missouri had quite different feelings about color, race and equality than my father held. Mine are different still. As a society and as individuals we have grown more tolerant and accepting of those whose physical characteristics and beliefs are different from our own.

It is our culture, our belief in the freedom and rights of the individual, that has allowed, and even mandated, this growth.

It did not originate in the tribalism of Africa, the Chinese “Mandate of Heaven,” the god-kings of Egypt. It originated in the city-states of Greece some twenty-five hundred years ago. It was defended at Thermopylae and Marathon and Salamis. It was spread by Alexander and the Caesars. It was rescued by the Renaissance and cemented in political reality by the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (and its amendments).

It is this cultural heritage, brought to western Europe and the Americas by refugees and immigrants that is important. Race, religion, color and language do not, I believe, in the long term, matter.

Our children are marrying people of other races and colors and our grandchildren are a blend. That doesn’t mean we love them less. And, are we not ourselves the product of an ongoing blending tens of thousands of years old?

Let us dispense with the aberrational fears and discriminatory attitudes of previous generations (and our own upbringing) and embrace the diversity that comes with immigration and the changing human landscape. Immigration is not going to stop, and we are not going to deport millions of “illegals” anyway–at least, not without turning ourselves into a police-state that would have Washington and Lincoln spinning in their graves.

Your daughters and sons are already dating, marrying and having children by men and women of other races. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren may not look like you, but, if you love them, they will love you in return. Indeed, they may love you anyway, despite your intolerance and prejudices.

Remember, it is our culture, not our racial and ethnic composition, that is important–and education is the key. The more people we educate in our schools to believe in the rights of the individual, in freedom of thought and equality, the safer the world will be for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.


Jump Start

Stone Soup

Random Thoughts on a Friday Afternoon

Random Thoughts–well, sort of random.

The Confederate Flag has been in the news this past week as a result of the murders of nine people in Charleston, SC. On a website registered to the accused murderer he was seen with a “Confederate Battle Flag.”

During its short history, the CSA had several flags. Its first official flag–the “Stars and Bars” (right)–looked

Confederate Flag - 1861-1863

Confederate Flag – 1861-1863

a great deal like the “Stars and Stripes” and caused some confusion of the battlefield. It was changed in 1863 to incorporate the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia in the place of the blue field and stars with the remainder of the flag being white. Eventually a large vertical red bar was added on the right.

Confederate "Battle" Flag

Confederate “Battle” Flag

What many think of as the “Confederate Flag” was the square battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia or the rectangular Confederate Navy Jack and the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee (left).

Perhaps it is time to retire this (these) flags from official and commercial sanction. For many in this country these flags stir memories of slavery and murder that are better left to our past.

There are those who say that these flags represent their history and heritage. Perhaps, they do. They have a right to fly them. Perhaps, they do. But these flags also represent slavery, cruelty, discrimination and murder to many of us. Perhaps, we should consider their feelings.

When the option presents itself, how about choosing to be kind?

“Gay” Marriage

This week the United States Supreme Court in a majority decision–not a unanimous decision–legalized same-sex marriage throughout our country. You know what? It’s not the end of the world.

I grew up in a era when homosexuality was considered by my church and parents to be a sin–in may places it was (and still is) a crime.

I’ve had students who are homosexual; I’ve had neighbors who are homosexual; I’ve had colleagues who are homosexual. You know what? It doesn’t make a dime’s bit of difference.

If they love each other, they can now get married and have (be) a family. All they want is to exercise the same rights and responsibilities as the “straight” community–they don’t want to convert you.

Get over it–spread Peace and Love not Hate.

Affordable Care Act–Obamacare

The Supreme Court also ruled this week on the ACA and the necessity of state health exchanges. This was, and still seems to be a deeply dividing issue. Compare the editorial and op-ed comments in the Orange County Register (anti) and the Los Angeles Times (pro).

Gee, now people in all of the US can get “affordable” medical care, subsidized if necessary. Those states which refused to set up health exchanges in order to keep people from getting this care are out of luck.

Bummer, huh?

The Supreme Court decided to go with the intent and spirit of the law rather than the “state health exchanges” wording. Good decision. Of course, Congress should go back and change the wording of the law. Who knows what might happen if a Republican president (with a Republican congress) comes along and appoints more justices opposed to the majority decision. Another case and this time a reversal of the decision.

After all, we are not governed by laws but by people.

 

English Exercise

Picked up several books at Camelot (used book store) today. Among them was Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted. Looking at the list of her titles in the Kinsey Millhone series, I was reminded of an exercise I used to assign my seventh graders back in those days when I taught spelling, vocabulary and grammar. (May they never return.)

I’d have the kids write sentences using the words for the week–real imaginative, huh? Some of the sentences had to use two or more of the week’s words. For example: outlaw, evidence, innocent, alibi. Although the outlaw had an ironclad alibi, the evidence showed that she was not innocent and that her accomplice had given perjured testimony.

They could change nouns to adjectives to verbs to adverbs, etc. I also gave them a chance to stump me by “throwing” a bunch of words at me and seeing if I could do it on the fly. I don’t remember ever being stumped, but that could be memory’s ego talking. I do remember stretching things, especially when they’d have me do the whole list, mixed up of course, in a single go.

Well, here goes: The alibi the shapely burglar used was insufficient to save her from becoming a corpse as the deadbeat hodad’s board had evidently hidden a gumshoe of homicidal intent who was bent on blowing away the less than innocent as she passed judgment on the killer whose lawless sense of malice acted as a noose around the neck of the outlaw Pauline who realized that her continued existence was in peril as she was the quarry of the bullet ricocheting off the seawall which in its lack of silence was trespassing the pacific surfline and catching her in the undertow of its vengeance and wasted away her life in the uncaring sand.

Ah, well, the Angels won–on to Chapter 4.

Blogging for the (English) Teacher

Blogging

Blogging is the modern response to the pamphlets and soapboxes of previous eras. Anyone with access to a computer, or a computer-like device, with Internet access can blog. S/he can find an audience of from zero to billions.

A blog is a tool to express opinions, to spread ideas, to sell products or ideology. It can also be used to educate. It is one of the “new” tools available to classroom teachers.

I believe that it can be of great value to teachers of English (Language Arts), especially writing teachers and to History (Social Studies) teachers. I’ve taught both subjects and my wife is an English teacher—both of us at the middle school/junior high level.

English teachers: give your kids a prompt and have them respond to it; have them respond to the responses of others; learn how to respond in a professional manner; learn how to defend your own position.

Your class has just finished reading a book: don’t assign a book report—assign a blog post. Don’t have them recap the story; have them give you their opinion of the story, the characters and defend their point of view from the story itself.

If the girls all liked the book and the boys all hated it, or the opposite, you might find you have to re-evaluate your own use of the book.

“But I Don’t Know Anything About Blogging.”

There are plenty of places to learn. As a start try reading the NCTE magazine Voices from the Middle, Volume 22 Number 2, December 2014.

The Classroom Blog: Enhancing critical Thinking, Substantive Discussion, and Appropriate Online Interaction by Shannon Baldino. Don’t let the name of the article scare you; Voices uses title like this for all of its articles, even the good ones.

Baldino gives you both her first hand experiences with this tool and links where you can get further ideas. Including:

Also try: readwritethink.org  In the Keyword Search box type in: blogs

My advice (as though you wanted it):

Give it a try.

Play with it over the upcoming holidays (Christmas/New Years).

You have five or six classes—try it with one.

You have five or six kids way ahead of everyone else—have them try it.

School district, or your principal’s, control is too anal retentive to use EduBlogs? See what the district offers, Blackboard maybe?

– – – – –

Too much trouble and not worth the effort?

Maybe, but if you use it in a classroom of forty kids (like I used to have), think of the audience each kid now has. John posts an opinion and thirty-nine others have “instant” access to it without exchanging papers in class or posting papers on the bulletin board. Use it with five or six classes? Hmmmm . . . A budding writer now has an audience.

Who knows, you might be helping the next Jim Murray, Ring Lardner, Owen Wister, insert name of favorite writer here.

 Leary about trying it? Beats taking home 200-240 two to three page book reports over the Christmas holidays.

Ho, ho, ho . . .

PS: Have an opinion of your own and want to share it with the world? Had a lesson, assignment or project that went over well? Something went horribly wrong and you want ideas from others how to make it go right (but not from the guy who teaches next door)? Start your own blog. Lots of teachers have; add yourself to the mix.