Unions balance needs of children and teachers

Deborah Meier

Schools have long been inundated with rules that stifle sensible practice and ostracize the professionals who work in them.  Up until the 1950s, married women in St. Louis were banned from teaching, and in Chicago if a teacher even looked pregnant she was ushered from the classroom. Since their inception, teachers unions have worked to abolish ordinances like these and address the shameful history of how teachers have been treated.

Now, more than a century later, the unions still have much to combat. For one, teachers’ benefits are being treated as a frivolous goldmine by many in Congress and other onlookers. As a retired teacher collecting two-thirds of my teaching salary in a pension – to which I contributed – I am genuinely perplexed as to why people with $3 million bonuses begrudge me my hard-earned retirement income – that’s shameful!

Meanwhile, our collaboration, unified needs and educational opinions are portrayed as conspiratorial dictatorship by some, vested in undermining our children’s futures.  Doctors are not regarded as a “special interest” like we are, but are instead listened to when they speak with professional consensus. I cannot think of a single medical reform in which doctors and their associations are not included in the policy discussion. Why should teachers and unions be treated any differently? Are they above criticism or even suspicion? Of course not; name me any that are.

Besides, who do those determined to end the influence of unions really think put the interests of children first? It’s certainly not the country as a whole, which ranks at the bottom on child welfare in the industrialized world. Neither is it the corporations and companies that pick up a factory here and move over there without thinking “first” about the impact on children or leaving high school graduates’ prospects grim and jobless. When we decided not to tax the rich the way they should have been, was it because we were too busy thinking about America’s children? 

We, the teachers and the unions, put children first, even when misguided.  But, of course, that includes our own children and our neighbor’s children.  How we balance these interests is part of what becoming education helps us discover. “Children first” is too easy an answer to help much.  But for sure, I don’t want students sitting in classrooms where their teachers are mostly thinking about their test scores and the effect on their own job futures — that’s an unhealthy classroom.