‘Time to Stop Talking About the Importance of Teacher Quality,’ Union Chief Says

Penny Starr | July 12, 2011 | 9:43am EDT
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(CNSNews.com) – The head of the American Federation of Teachers on Monday complained about “those who blame teachers for everything that goes wrong in our schools… but do nothing to support us in our work.”

In a speech at the AFT’s conference in Washington, Randi Weingarten did not name names, but she did mention “so-called reformers” and those “on high” who try to improve education with “one-size-fits-all” remedies.

“It’s time to stop talking about the importance of teacher quality. It’s time to start building a high-quality education system by cultivating high-quality educators—from excellent teacher colleges, with ample clinical experience, focused induction, and ongoing professional support throughout a teacher’s career, in an environment that fosters respect.”

Weingarten called for “new reality,” in which teaching becomes a “sustainable profession” rather than a “service project” or a temporary job.

She criticized those who view teachers as “an itinerant sweatshop workforce” where teachers “parachute in for a couple of years, work to the point of burnout, and then go on with their lives elsewhere.”

Teachers improve throughout their careers, Weingarten said, adding that too many leave before they get really good at their jobs. She called it “shocking” that one-third of new teachers leave within the first three years, and nearly half leave within five years of being hired.

Weingarten also urged union members to “fight back” against attacks from states such as Wisconsin, which curbed collective bargaining rights for public workers and required them to pay more for pensions and health coverage. 
“If there’s a silver lining to be found from what happened this winter in Wisconsin, it’s the awareness of the meaning of our movement. For a long time, fretting about the labor movement only happened within the labor movement. What we’re seeing now is that more and more Americans are paying attention, because they’re realizing what it would mean to revoke workers’ rights and silence their voices, and it isn’t pretty.

“We’ve turned that painful moment into a reinvigorated movement and a renewed understanding that elections matter.”

Weingarten also addressed “devastating” state budget cuts that have many teachers “making sacrifices” on behalf of their colleagues and student.

“Across America, teachers are taking furlough days and sacrificing long-fought-for benefits,” Weingarten said. “This fall, we’ll shine a spotlight on the effects of the budget cuts, and on the heroic efforts of our members to make a difference in children’s lives every day despite these cuts.”

Weingarten said the AFT is taking steps to strengthen the teaching profession from within. She mentioned a “comprehensive development and evaluation system” that is “all about supporting” teachers, “not just sorting” them.

“We’ve set a collective goal: to rank among the top five countries in the world in terms of teacher development and student achievement by the year 2020,” Weingarten said.

“Our agenda for reaching this goal will require that all students have access not only to great educators, but also to rich and meaningful curriculum, health and social services, and an array of supports and experiences in their local communities and beyond.”

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