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Thompson: Oakland's "Mutual Consent" Unfair To Veteran Teachers

Too_old_for_your_gadgetIt's hard not to agree with the notion presented by Jill Tucker in this SF Chronicle article that "there is a particular type of teacher who wants to work in an urban environment,"  and that many teachers who are great "in schools with few challenges" would not make it in the inner city." That is why we have such a shortage of teaching talent in the toughest schools.  That also explains why so many great teachers work their hearts out in the toughest schools for a certain time period and then use seniority rights to transfer to schools where better conditions allow for great teaching over a sustainable career.  In my experience, those dedicated educators fret through months of sleepless nights before moving to the easier schools.  Others may disagree but it felt to me like Tucker was editorializing against unions for protecting their members' health and from being treated like interchangable widgets.  The politics of "mutual consent" are no different than the other politics that made seniority (and civil service and age discrimination laws) a necessity. "Mutual Consent" will, again, create more problems than the system it replaces.  It will drive off veterans with the institutional memories that schools need, while replacing them with inexperienced, low salaried teachers with no interest in making a career of teaching.  Seniority should be reformed, but these attacks on collective bargaining agreements ignore the realities of urban education.  More importantly, they are a distraction from the hard work necessary to transform "an urban environment." Poor schools will attract and retain talent when we address the conditions that drive out teachers while beating down students.-JT (@drjohnthompson)Image via.

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I'm a sharp critic of shoddy education reporting, which is rampant, and a heated defender of teachers' unions against the endless bashing they get. But with all due respect to John, I'm defending Jill Tucker here. I don't think she has a bias and I think her reporting was fair -- I think there's a bit of subconscious blaming the messenger going on. It probably helps that I've been reading Jill's reporting for years, so I know that she has a history of solid reporting.

(Disclosure that I know her, but I can be quite scathing to other journalists whose reporting I think is substandard, even when I know them, so I'm not pulling punches for that reason.)

Caroline, I am not familar with Jill Tucker's other work. I should read more about West Coast schools. You obviously are the better source in regard to Tucker's overall body of work, so if I was unfair I apologize.

You are also correct that the message, and most messengers have failed to tell the other sides of the stories of seniority and mutual consent, and I am sensitive to that. And, of course after a comment from you, I reread the article.

In this case, I still believe Tucker wrote an editorial. She started with three paragraphs attacking seniority and contrasting teachers' privileges with workers in the real world. She then wrote three paragraphs quoting the superitendent and implying that district leaders are sincere seeking to help kids, and thus implying that their opponents do not.

Then Tucker gave two sentences to the union position.

She then wrote that now is "an ideal time" for mutual consent, but without mentioning the risks of mutual consent at a time when schools are being closed. She then offered four paragraphs giving the administration's position, followed by 13 (mostly short) paragraphs praising the pilot, but not mentioning what has happened in the past when mutual consent is brought to scale (as in the Rubber Room.)

She concluded with four short paragraphs quoting teachers and unions, but even then the final quote was ambiguous, citing a teacher who said that mutual consent worked for her, but without giving an indication of why she though it could create problems for other.

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