Tim Schlosser, an English teacher at Southeast Middle School in South Gate, writes the times homeroom blog:
June 12, 2008 - I consider myself a socially conscious, politically active young teacher, so it may seem strange that I wasn’t looking forward to protesting the governor’s budget cuts last Friday. I drove to school that morning in my red United Teachers of Los Angeles T-shirt, ready to do my union duty but feeling like a hypocrite.
I think UTLA has a necessary role to play in our schools. However, I also think that it is partly responsible for the poor quality of education endured by many of LAUSD’s 694,000-plus pupils. It’s a problem for schools nationwide: Because of the union’s strength, it is almost impossible to fire teachers for incompetence. LAUSD teachers are paid primarily according to the number of years they have been with the district, and veteran teachers at some schools are free to belittle and ignore their students without repercussions. Many veteran teachers are wonderful, of course, but the union sometimes acts as an enabler for the exceptions.
While UTLA theoretically supports a system of peer review for evaluating teacher performance, the general feeling among teachers where I work is that anyone who has been with the district for more than five years is “untouchable.”
Driving to the school that morning, I thought about the union’s claim that the demonstrations were “for the kids of L.A.” — though we all knew that they were planned as a “shot across the bow” (in the words of our union rep) to protect jobs. I wondered whether UTLA’s leadership (which is not made up of teachers) thinks about the kids of L.A. as much as it thinks about the union dues it will lose when the district starts cutting positions. It seemed strange to me that we were showing our support for our students by walking out on them for an hour, leaving them to whatever bare-bones supervision administrators could provide.
Such were my cynical musings — before I actually arrived at school. Then I saw the whistles, bullhorns and signs. I saw teachers laughing, cheering and acting like a big family at a Fourth of July picnic. For that hour, petty squabbles among our faculty seemed to evaporate, and our voices sounded in unison: “No Budget Cuts! No Budget Cuts!” Because even though UTLA is partly responsible for our schools’ persistent problems, the fact remains that these cuts will hurt kids. The district may have to increase class sizes and reduce funding for field trips, electives and professional development. Our students deserve to be a top fiscal priority, not one of the first items on the chopping block. The union stood up and said so, and this case I’m glad I stood with them. The union’s interests and the students’ interests happened to align last Friday — but UTLA is first and foremost an advocate for teachers, not kids.