How Rhee lost her teachers
By Virginia R. Pass
I do not understand The Post’s trust in D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. She is running roughshod over the rights of teachers, all the while claiming that she is acting in the best interests of the children.
Certainly students in D.C. public schools have been poorly served for many years, and they have a fundamental right to a good education. But that education can’t happen without teachers. When a school system shows callousness toward its employees, as Rhee did with her recent firing of hundreds of teachers and other workers, it undermines its ability to find dedicated people to work in such a climate.
Your Oct. 31 editorial, “Ms. Rhee on trial,” cast the teachers’ union as the villain, one interested in protecting teachers at the expense of students. That is simply not true. Remember that unions came about because employers were taking advantage of their workers — in effect, violating their rights. Rhee’s recent actions show that employees still need unions to protect them from unfair practices. The editorial also said that teachers won’t hear Rhee in good faith; I believe that they were initially willing to work with Rhee, but now she is just reaping what she has sown, which is disrespect and disregard.
Teaching is not, and never was, the cushy, perk-laden career that people with little or no experience in education often suggest. Teachers routinely work long hours, usually without being given adequate time for planning and collaboration with colleagues. They teach their subjects, and they teach students to use manners, treat classmates with respect and develop study skills. They must manage classrooms in which students have a wide range of needs. Many teachers hold master’s degrees or the equivalent and seek out training in technology and other education-related subjects in their meager spare time.
Still, they don’t seem to be considered to be professionals who deserve basic workplace rights. I have no problem with firing incompetent teachers, but let the process be fair. I commend Rhee for her desire to serve students. But if she wants to succeed, she needs to be the leader not just of the students clamoring for a solid education but also of the teachers who will provide that education.
The writer is a teacher at Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville.
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