AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner's op-ed as featured on The Tennessean website:
Everyone has a teacher in mind that has made a significant impact in their life. After all, teachers ignite passions and shape the people we become.
This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week, an opportunity for not only students to celebrate their teachers, but a way for everyday Americans to learn more about teaching as a profession and its merits in our societal framework.
This year has been particularly difficult for teachers. Budget shortfalls are resulting in teacher layoffs in many states. Changes are being made on the state and local levels about how teachers are evaluated and compensated. Technology continues to change the face of instruction, and educators face constant performance pressure in the wake of our declining scores in international rankings.
While there is certainly a turbulent climate in education and labor relations, we must recognize that our teachers are a great national treasure and they should be recognized as the professionals that they are. In public opinion polls, teachers continue to be ranked as some of the most respected professionals while union leaders hover at the bottom.
But this illustrates the fundamental disconnect between teachers and labor unions. Teachers are not blue-collar laborers; they are academic professionals like lawyers, scientists and engineers. Industrial-style union representation does not advance the respect that educators deserve.
This is exemplified in the so-called backlash against teachers that should be more accurately aimed against teachers unions and their agenda rather than against actual classroom teachers. As a result, the teaching profession gets a black eye.
Union leaders would have you believe that teachers and unions are essentially the same. The fact of the matter is that there are nearly 1 million teachers in America who don’t belong to a union and certainly do not subscribe to the mentality that the union perpetuates.
Teachers deserve to be treated as individual professionals with ideas and experience that can be brought to the policy table. To create and implement meaningful education reform, the true voices of American teachers need to be heard, instead of the outdated, overreaching, politically charged mantras of union bosses. We need to empower teachers to not only have the tools they need to succeed but give them the freedom to make the choice for themselves how to be represented. It is not only important for today’s teachers but the future of a shrinking workforce.
Talented, devoted teachers make impact on students
In a speech about the importance of training effective teachers, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggests that in the next 10 years, over half of our teacher workforce will be retiring. To attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession, we need to elevate our teachers to a new level of professionalism. While a lot of talk has been devoted to changes needed in policy in the classroom, it is high time that teachers examine the yesteryear representation of their unions and consider non-union alternatives that better represent their profession.
Research shows that the teacher in the classroom is the most important factor in student academic success. For the United States to attain higher levels of academic achievement, we need talented, devoted teachers to help our students make important gains. One of our priorities this week should be to encourage young people across the country to consider a career in education.
So this week, recognize the realities teachers are facing. Send your child to school with a kind note, donate to a charity in honor of a teacher, or make an effort in your community to show a teacher that they are appreciated. Individual teachers need our support now more than ever.
Gary Beckner is executive director of the Association of American Educators (www.aaeteachers.org). The Association of American Educators, based in Mission Viejo, Calif., is the largest national nonunion professional teachers association.