Theresea Ullmeyer's letter (Sept. 19, 2003) is addressed to the teachers of Juneau and contains a list of "perks" that parents who home-school "already have": year-round school, a.m. and p.m. class schedules, private lessons available throughout the day in various non-curricular subjects, "privatization of many teaching positions," cafeterias with "real" hot lunches. Clearly, she would like these "perks" to be part of a newly negotiated teaching contract. The union, she declares, is negotiating for its workers, not for the children of Juneau.
I am curious about the financial compensation received by home-schooling parents for their labor; my guess is, financially speaking, little or nothing, though doubtless there are other rewards. If the "perks" enumerated by Ms. Ullmeyer are contracted for with outside providers, I wonder how much home-schooling parents pay. Obviously, home schooling is not an option for everyone, nor are professional teachers the equivalent of a home-schooling parent. That is not their job. Most of them enter the teaching profession out of a love of teaching; certainly no one ever became rich by teaching. When Ms. Ullmeyer accuses the teachers' union of negotiating for its members rather than the children, she is only partially right. Given that many of the "perks" she lists would be nice to have, they all depend on adequate funding, and do not necessarily come under the purview of teachers or their contracts.
Unions exist for many reasons, and one of them is to ensure that their members are fairly treated in the workplace. Fair treatment includes receiving a living wage for services provided. Teachers put in long, hard days on the job and more often than not take work home at night and on weekends. If they are expected to provide the "perks" mentioned by Ms. Ullmeyer, they not only need to be compensated for doing so, but there must be enough of them at any given school to make sure that their workload is reasonable. Even with a union, this isn't always the case; without a union, teachers could very well end up having to teach a.m. and p.m. schedules, give private lessons on the side, and provide various other "perks" without due compensation. I don't know what Ms. Ullmeyer means by the "privatization" of teaching positions, but usually this means someone will be providing teachers (not necessarily licensed) for a profit. We have all seen how well such a system works with HMOs. Surely a bottom-line education is not in the best interest of our students.
The union looks out for the interests of its members in order to allow them to do the job they are hired to do, and what the vast majority of teachers want to do is teach. Ms. Ullmeyer's criticism would be better directed not at the teachers' union but at the Alaska state legislators and elected officials who hold Alaska's children - and therefore Alaska's future - in such contempt that they consistently and, at every level, fail to provide the necessary funding to support its public schools.