The very best teachers make learning come alive and help students become critical thinkers. But teachers are also advocates for students, the teaching profession and quality public education. That’s why in a democratic society committed to equity for all students, teachers must have the ability to speak and act on behalf of their students without the fear of reprisal from administrators, or subject to changing political winds that could stifle academic freedom.
Educators know that the main obstacle to success in the classroom has been massive layoffs, hugely inadequate resources and a budget that puts California near the national bottom in funding, class size average, and many key supports for achievement. That’s why the education unions worked hard to pass Prop 30, which stopped layoffs and began to bring back teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors to our schools.
Teachers also want rigorous standards for training and evaluation that raises the bar on our profession and removes from our classrooms those adults who should not be working with young people. That’s why the CFT and the CTA supported AB 375, authored by Assemblymember Joan Buchanan last year, which would have expedited the process for dismissing incompetent teachers while ensuring the fundamental right of due process.
But the Vergara lawsuit isn’t about weeding out those few teachers who aren’t performing, or even about improving California schools. It’s about billionaires, so-called education reformers, and a high priced, powerful law firm scapegoating teachers and education unions for the real problems of public education.
Seniority and due process rights are a shield against the arbitrary and subjective decisions that in the past were used to fire pregnant women, gays, and other teachers who advocated for students and raised important but provocative issues in the classroom. Without these protections, McCarthyite conditions could become the norm again, robbing generations of students from the critical thinking our students need to be productive citizens in the 21st century.
Let’s have a real discussion about how to create quality public education for every student in our state, involving all stakeholders, and without vilifying teachers.
The California Federation of Teachers represents more than 120,000 education employees in California, from Head Start and community colleges through the University of California. For more information, go to www.cft.org.