by cheri block
Reading this morning about the teachers’ union in Atlanta, Georgia, blaming their conspiratorial cheating on the tests themselves, as if tests were life forms, reminded me of why I abhor the teachers’ union: it is a bureaucratic agency that was formed to protect teachers rather than to improve public education.
My first inkling that some California Teachers’ Union and American Federation of Teachers’ members might not be the best behavioral examples for children came in 1973 during the first of three strikes I was to experience during my 26 years in public education.
Just twenty-three years old and teaching English and as naive as a little filly, I parked my Dodge Colt in the faculty parking lot and trotted in with my saddle bags full of corrected papers.
I walked through the picket line and couldn’t help but hear some of my colleagues hooting and hollering at me, six inches from my ear. Having served for seven years as the famous Ladybug, a day camp counselor who was known for her resiliency to the potty mouths of ten-year-old boys, I ignored my colleagues by humming B-I-N-G-O is my NAME-O.
But what was to happen in the Faculty Commons, a place Joe had named in the spirit of academic collaboration (I don’t remember too many academic discussions during that year but I do remember Moe, Larry, and Curly playing poker during the lunch break), shocked me so much that I have never forgotten the image.
The largest man on the faculty was Bruno, the wrestling coach whom Joe had plucked, well plucked isn’t the proper verb, let’s say hoisted, from a rival high school only three miles away.
The most sensitive man on the faculty was Claro, the choir coach, whose wife was known as the finest Armenian cook west of Tehran. Were wit packaged and sold, Claro would be wealthier than the California Teachers’ Union itself.
All I remember that day is the sound outside the door to the Faculty commons, the sound one hears before a tornado hits the house, a deep foreboding rumble, accented by high-pitched bystander screams. I had just visited the coffee pot, where Principal Joe hung out. He said that morning to me, “Baby, you are going to get an education this week.”
The door flung open and in ran Claro, briefcase in hand, his wispy black hair blown back, as if he had been in a ferocious wind. The only wind that day came from the line of union members who drummed, Fair Contract Now, Fair Contract Now. Claro was running at breakneck speed and only needed, I thought for a split second, a white outfit with a red kerchief around his neck. Could this be Pamplona, Spain?
It was possible because close behind Claro, in fact, right by his rear end, came a bull of a man, Bruno.
Bruno entered the building, still yelling something unintelligible to my ears and picked up a folding chair and threw it at Claro. Threw it at Claro.
I’m happy to report that the chair missed its mark that day. As for me, I never joined the union after witnessing behavior that well, didn’t become a teacher.
Back in Atlanta this morning in 2013, the teachers’ onion there, peeling its layers to get to the truth, has blamed the cheating scandal on the tests themselves. Never mind standards. Never mind ethics, but we do mind having to administer standardized tests.
To show you all how we feel about standardized tests, we will cheat on them for about six years. We will open the packages with exacto knives to learn the answers to the basic questions. We will doctor our students’ tests by erasing incorrect answers. Our scores will go up. A money stream will continue to flow.
Oh, we got caught? Let’s deny the charges. Let’s chase the opposition into the building and maybe heave a chair or two.
After all, it’s the test’s fault, not ours.