Self-interest is OK

“We have teachers in our name, but children and their families in mind,” proclaims a United Federation of Teachers’ commercial. A teachers’ union should have teachers in mind, writes NYC Educator. No buts about it.

. . . when your girlfriend or boyfriend says, “I really love you but…” you know it’s time to seek a new one. When your boss says, “You’re doing a great job but…” maybe it’s good news for someone in India.

So after “We have teachers in our name,” there should be no but. We are a labor union. We should have teachers in our minds. In fact, that is our purpose. To buy into the propaganda that it’s somehow evil to act in our self-interest is to lose the war without firing a shot.

. . . The message that we don’t care one way or the other about teachers is insidious, counter-productive, and a massive abuse of the dues for which we work so hard.

Three Cheers for Self-Interest, responds EIA Intercepts.  Unions receive dues to protect their members’ interests. That includes trying to keep members employed.

Teachers have their self-interest, and many times it coincides with the self-interest of students and parents. Teachers’ unions have their self-interest as well, but like to pretend they don’t, which is why the UFT ad mentions class size, supplies and quality teachers, but fails to mention bumping, release time, exclusive representation, and summary dismissal for teachers who fail to pay their union dues – all things that have nothing to do with the interests of students and parents.

So why pretend otherwise?

A hypothetical union that advertises itself as acting in the interests of itself and its members creates an equivalency between itself and other self-interested parties. Like parents. And taxpayers. And, dare I say it, management.

In my newspaper years, my union, the Newspaper Guild, talked about freedom of the press and freedom of information, but its function was to negotiate better pay, benefits and working conditions for members — and to protect members from being fired, even if they weren’t very good.

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Comments

  1. I have nothing against unions or allowing teachers to form unions. Teachers also claim to be part of a noble profession. Is it possible to claim to be a professional while belonging to a union that protects unprofessional conduct of its members?

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Teachers’ unions are effective.
    A local principal observed that the total cost to the district of getting rid of an incompetent teacher is in the area of $250,000.
    How’s that for a deterrent? As one principal said to me when I complained about a drunk teaching math, “He’s got to retire some time.”
    Screw the kids. There’s a new batch every year anyway and they don’t sue.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    Teachers claim to be professionals.

    Teacher’s unions act like it’s an industrial shop floor, and often, as if it’s still 1934 and the Reuther brothers are trying to organize Ford’s River Rouge plant in the face of strikebreakers armed with winchesters.

    It is possible to be a professional. It is possible to be a union member. I do not believe it is possible to be both.

  4. In the 1980s, there was significant community unease about a proposed teachers’ union contract, containing significant compensation increases, in one of the DC area counties. A number of teachers reacted to the community’s doubts about the desirability of the contract by militantly and publicly “working to the rule,” i.e. doing absolutely nothing that was not specifically covered in their current contract. This included a number of high school teachers who refused to write college/internship/job recommendations for their students, and a number who would write them only if the student/family gave them (in advance) a signed letter to the school board supporting the contract increase. I do not know how many teachers did this, but I have personal knowledge that there were more than a few, in schools which typically sent large numbers of kids to top private and public colleges. SUCH BEHAVIOR ABSOLUTELY PROVES THAT THE PEOPLE INVOLVED WERE NOT PROFESSIONALS.

    In the community where I currently live, only last year the teachers’ union defeated a (minor, primarily semantic) curriculum change proposal, not on pedagogical grounds but BECAUSE it would add 10 minutes to the school day and there would not be increased pay for it. AGAIN, THIS IS PURE UNION BEHAVIOR, WITH NOTHING PROFESSIONAL ABOUT IT.

    And some teachers wonder why they are not respected as professionals…

  5. Ragnarok says:

    “This included a number of high school teachers who refused to write college/internship/job recommendations for their students”

    The same thing happened here in the Bay Area; they’d get on TV and tell us, tears a-runnin’ down their faces, that they were doin’ this fer the kids.

    Somebody once said that teachers are dockworkers with (mediocre) degrees.

    I have more respect for the dockworkers.

  6. Teachers actually do have the interests of children and their families in mind, at least the vast majority of the ones that I have met.

    You don’t get into a profession like teaching and take the abuse like it is dished out here unless you are able to move beyond mere self-interest and to find value in service and community.

    To suppose that teacher’s unions should conform to some minimalist self-interest based version of representation is to deeply misunderstand both teachers and unions.

    Not everybody is greedy, not everybody is interested only in themselves. And those who are should not project these traits onto those who aren’t.

  7. Ragnarok says:

    Stephen Downes said:

    “To suppose that teacher’s unions should conform to some minimalist self-interest based version of representation is to deeply misunderstand both teachers and unions.”

    At last Senor Downes and I agree on something: You simply can’t equate “…some minimalist self-interest based version of representation…” to the union credo, which may be elegantly expressed as “Grabbit & run”.

  8. “…protect members from being fired, even if they weren’t very good”

    and THAT is the singular complaint from the public about unions and its “quality membership”

  9. Love you guys, too!

  10. Bill Leonard says:

    By all means, work to contract in any dispute, or for that matter, any time a steward tells you to do so.

    But do not expect any respect from me or any other thinking person about your “professional” status, or how much money you think you ought to get because that’s what the union is bargaining for.

    And yes, I have several in-laws who are teachers, including a sister-in-law who is a steward and a big labor skate. The conversations get damned interesting at holiday gatherings when everybody has two or three on board!

  11. John Drake says:

    Jeez, is Jerry Garcia wannabe still hanging around here?

  12. Bill said, “It is possible to be a professional. It is possible to be a union member. I do not believe it is possible to be both….But do not expect any respect from me or any other thinking person about your “professional” status, or how much money you think you ought to get because that’s what the union is bargaining for.”

    Well said, Bill. Professionals form associations. Teachers form unions.
    Then, teachers wonder why they get such little respect.