It’s easy to see this latest debate in New York City (about the teachers’ union filing a grievance because plans to require teachers to set goals for each student constitute an increase in the workday) as just another example of teachers’ unions run amok. Or, as another example of fighting over trees, like three minutes in the school day, while losing sight of the forest. If it gets more media traction that’s likely how it will be played.
But this episode is really an example of a deeper, more far-reaching, and more destructive problem in public education: The almost complete absence in too many places of collegiality, professional decision- making and ability of professionals to solve day to day work challenges without resorting to fights over contractual rules. Rhetorically the mantra is that teachers should be treated like professionals, and it’s true they certainly should as it’s professional work. But this sort of thing is the very antithesis of how professionals conduct business and handle relations. And that’s a problem that goes far beyond one grievance in NYC, it’s cultural. And it’s going to take a new approach to contracts and organizing schools to get past it that meaningfully empowers teachers as professionals and establishes new norms for how a professional workplace operates. There are some promising models in places like MN, Colorado, and some charter schools but a long way to go.