T he Janus v. AFSCME case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court represents a potentially devastating hit to public education unions. The
anti-union supporters of the case hope that eliminating
agency fee requirements will cause union membership
to drop, weakening our collective voice. We can fight
back by making sure that everyone who works in our
public schools and colleges understands how both
educators and our students benefit from unions.
As a former charter school teacher, I can attest
that teacher professionalism is diminished when we
are subject to overbearing managerial control. This is
detrimental to teachers and students alike.
Two conditions bear a close look: evaluations
and professional development.
How do you know that you’re a good teacher?
Teachers have a good intuitive sense of this. We
know through observation when our students are
engaged in meaningful work and are enthusiastic
We also collect both qualitative and quantitative
data, which we use to modify our instruction. The
purpose of collecting this data should be to improve
instruction, not to rank students, teachers or schools.
The insights of good administrators play
an important role. When provided correctly,
administrator input can definitely help us be better
at our jobs. The teacher and administrator should
operate as a team to look holistically at the teaching
and learning that take place.
This does not describe my experience in charter
schools. A big concern was that evaluations were tied
directly to pay. This may sound innocent enough,
but the criterion of success was a moving target and
impossible to predict.
On some days my evaluator told me that I
did not do well because my hair was not combed
properly. On other days I was videotaped, my every
move scrutinized. I was asked: “Why did you say
this?” “Why are you walking that way around the
room?” “Why did you apologize to a student?” “You
should never apologize because it shows weakness,”
I was told.
Much of this was about appearance and not
O n other days when I was evaluated, I never heard any feedback at all. There was no consistency and only the weakest connection
to learning. The evaluation process was designed to
undermine my confidence and agency as a teacher,
which the school’s administrators knew would be to
their advantage when it came to salary.
This changed drastically when I moved to a
true public school. Under our negotiated evaluation
system in Watertown, I am given excellent guidance
on how to become a better teacher. I was guided to
move from “proficient” to “exemplary.” I was also
given a say in my evaluation. It was not something
done to me; rather, the evaluation was done with me
and for me.
Feedback was immediately relevant and
supported by evidence. And the goal was always
focused on my students’ learning. This is not to say
that the evaluation process is perfect by any means.
But compared to my previous experience, it is a
significant step up.
Having a union also makes a difference in
Teachers make significant investments in
continued learning through self-directed programs
and district-provided professional development. In the
charter schools where I worked, so-called professional
development began in early to mid-August.
For about two weeks, teachers gathered in
dimly lit halls to hear speech after speech that never
connected with classroom practice. PD was typically
led by school administrators who rarely held
teaching certifications or degrees in education and
who had limited classroom experience.
Most of our PD providers were businesspeople.
Hearing them talk about educational effectiveness was
like having a CPA discuss the fine points of William
Blake. It did not improve teaching or change student
achievement in the slightest. In short, “professional
development” simply checked the boxes — delivered
early and often, but disconnected from practice.
When teachers have a union, they have a
greater voice in their professional development. The
MTA itself offers some excellent PD delivered by
experienced educators on topics such as classroom
management, differentiated instruction and mentor
While the Janus case poses a serious threat
to unions, unions have faced threats in the past
and survived by demonstrating their value both to
employees and to the people they serve.
Through our local associations, the MTA and
the NEA, we are able to work together to protect
and professionalize teaching. We need to speak
out publicly about the value of unions if we are to
withstand continued assaults on our right to join
together for the benefit of ourselves, our families, our
students and our communities.
Lucas Donohue is a fifth-grade teacher at
the Cunniff Elementary School in Watertown. He
previously worked in one charter school in Malden
and another in Boston.
“Since moving back to Massachusetts and
becoming a member of my local teachers’ union,
Maureen Colgan Posner,
president of the Springfield
emceed an event attended
by more than 150 union
members. She said that the
SEA is at its strongest as it goes to the bargaining
table “when we have 2,400 members together.”
Colgan Posner added, “If some of our members
decide to be freeloaders, it will be hard to have the
collective power to bargain with the city.”
The MTA’s All In campaign is intended to
involve more members in their local associations
so that they can personally experience the power of
being part of a collective body working to better the
lives of members and the students they serve. The
hope is that those who experience that power will
decide against becoming free riders.
Lee Saunders, the national president of
AFSCME — the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees — flew up from
Washington, D.C., to speak at the Boston rally. He
summed up the fighting spirit of the day.
“This case isn’t about free speech,” Saunders
said. “This case is about political power. This case
is about those who have wealth and power in this
country. They want more wealth and power at the
expense of all of you. They can go straight to hell,
because we’re fighting back.”
For more information about the All In
campaign, please visit massteacher.org/allin.
Continued from previous page
‘This case is about political power,’ AFSCME leader tells crowd
Photo by Bob Duffy
Springfield Education Association President
Maureen Colgan Posner told a crowd of more
than 150 area residents that the union is at
its strongest when it goes to the bargaining
table with “ 2,400 members together.”