Speaking From Experience: Public Unions Play a Vital Role
It is time - past time, in fact - that I speak my mind about the situation in Wisconsin. I do so from personal experience, an experience which dramatically altered my entire life.
During the four years I was in the Army, I was a musician. Because of the GI Bill, I was later able to graduate from Northwestern University with a degree in music education. While there, I -studied many band and orchestral instruments, all from Chicago Symphony musicians. I had an extensive background in instrumental music, and that is what I wanted to teach. I also had a minor in history and was just shy of a minor in English.
I graduated in midyear after 3 ? years and desperately needed a job. I was broke. When a position teaching vocal music in Dearborn, Mich., was offered to me, I readily accepted with the proviso that when a position in instrumental music became available I would be given high priority.
I worked hard at my job teaching general music, directing operettas and several choruses, but I was very unhappy. Four years later, after two instrumental positions had been filled with newly graduated teachers, a friend of mine found that I wasn't being transferred because my school principal liked my work and was unwilling to allow me to transfer.
Another junior high principal reviewed my credentials and offered me a position to teach English and social studies. Rather than leave teaching, I accepted. At that time, I was working on my master's degree from the University of Michigan, concentrating on economic geography. It was a simple thing to add English courses at his request. I never returned to teaching music.
This entire process made me angry. How futile and wasteful could it be that one administrator could control the professional lives of qualified teachers, not to mention the possible well-being of students? The result - I became active in the Dearborn Federation of Teachers.
A few years later, I left teaching for four years to serve as president of that organization. During that time, I had a lifetime of experiences with contract enforcement, negotiating, grievance procedures and public relations.
Yes, salary and fringe benefits were important, but we had numerous other issues that badly needed change. We needed to give teachers the right to transfer into positions for which they were qualified and certified. We needed to make sure that teachers were teaching in fields for which they were properly certified.
We needed to make it possible for women to teach mathematics and science in the high school rather than holding those positions for men only. We needed to create a salary system that would place women on an equal footing with men. We needed to make it possible for qualified junior high teachers of mathematics to be allowed to teach summer school and night school.
Scheduling was difficult and very complex, but we needed to guarantee that all possible steps be taken that would place teachers only in classrooms for which they were qualified. No teacher should teach a class in French, for example, simply because he/she was available at a given time.
Can you imagine the administration demanding these things? Who are you kidding? All of these things would require a lot of extra effort and big scheduling headaches for the administration. It was the teachers' union that brought those ideas to the table.
And, ultimately, we were successful The governor of Wisconsin wants to go back to a time when the school administration can run the schools in a manner that is most convenient for them. The real concern for the kids comes from the teachers.
Yes, I did spend my last several years in school administration, but it was the union that taught me what was really important to successful school administration.
Destroying their right to collective bargaining would be a terrible mistake.
Keep in mind that economic benefits move in several directions. All benefits negotiated by the UAW, for example, went also to all other employees higher up the scale. Only later they would percolate downward to public employees and then, because of profitability for corporations, only a portion would be realized at the public employee level. Even owners of small businesses benefited because a well-paid middle class would serve to enrich those owners.
If the governor of Wisconsin gets his way, public education in this country will fall further back.
Even with collective bargaining, it is difficult to attract highly competent people into educational fields. Without it even more highly competent people will be lost, and -personal preferences will govern administrative decision-making.
Bill Johnston lives in Seven Lakes.
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