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Thompson: TNTP (Once Again) Proves that It's Anti-Teacher & Anti-Union

TNTP has done teachers a great service in publishing “Rebalancing Tenure Rights.” 

I’m serious. Liberal non-educators who support anti-tenure lawsuits seem to assume that the strickened laws would inevitably be replaced by something better. Vergara supporters have been mum on what would replace today’s imperfect but necessary laws, protecting the rights of teachers. 

TNTP now makes it clear, however, that if Vergara and similar suits are upheld on appeal, it will push an agenda that is fundamentally anti-teacher and anti-union. It would strip teachers of their right to challenge their accusers’ judgment. In doing so, they would make it impossible for the teacher’s side of the story to be entered into evidence in a dismissal case, and call the survival of collective bargaining into question.

Of course, TNTP spins its position, claiming that it is only "good faith" judgments that should be all-powerful. In theory, an administrative judge, in an one-day hearing, could reject bad faith and false judgments of administrators. But, if teachers aren't allowed to cross examine those judgments, how could the judge make such a determination? And, why would teachers join unions that could not challenge claims against their members?

Non-educators who haven’t seriously studied education history may not understand why teachers should have the democratic rights - enjoyed by all other Americans – to use the political process to gain protections that are more than those of the weakest civil service protections. But, there are huge problems with their claims.

First, teachers work in public, politicized, and polarized environments where judgments clash continually. Even when all stakeholders are unquestionably sincere, teachers can’t do their jobs without the right to express their professional opinion. Reformers would never pretend that the way to improve health outcomes would be to deny doctors or nurses the right to defend themselves against repercussions for disagreeing with a superior.

Reformers like to argue that tenure made sense back during the bad old days when politics intruded into schools and the civil service.  But, the profession is just as politicized today as ever. Under School Improvement Grant rules, for instance, questioning the role of testing and teach-to-the-test, and thus disagreeing with the judgment of an SIG principal, is enough to be defined as a “culture killer” and dismissed. The TNTP would turn all evaluators into SIG principals on steroids. 

Non-educators may not understand that cases (that they might see as extreme and exceptional) still happen continually. Here are just a few common examples of disagreements that help explain why teachers need tenure. 

When a teacher believes that a student’s claims about domestic abuse are credible, and an administrator disagrees, do we want either professional to be denied the right to express their judgment without repercussions?   

When a teacher witnesses an assault in the hallway, and the victim is in danger of expulsion for defending himself, do we want the educator to be afraid to testify in the student’s suspension hearing? 

Or, to take the example I saw over and over in my career, how should adults respond when a child is being beaten senseless? Our union always warned teachers against the professional danger of restraining a student, but it always had the ability to defend teachers who showed common decency and intervened. When an unconscious student is being stomped mercilessly by another student, do we want adults to do the right thing or to heed their fears that an administrator, embarrassed by the rampant violence that occurs on his watch, will punish a teacher who comes to the rescue? 

Non-educators who think I’m exaggerating should walk in teachers’ shoes for awhile before they prohibit us from using our democratic rights to persuade the voters that we deserve job protections.   I think they would be stunned.–JT(@drjohnthompson)


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