By Ben Velderman
WICHITA, Kan. – It’s a sad fact that labor unions need conflict to exist, the same way fire needs oxygen.
And if labor leaders can’t find sufficient strife between employers and employees, they will manufacture some, just to justify their existence to dues-paying members.
That’s what’s happening in Wichita Public Schools, the largest school district in Kansas.
According to The Wichita Eagle, the local teachers union is balking at a contract offer from school leaders because it requires teachers “to keep written, detailed lesson plans.”
The Eagle reports this “sticking point in contract talks” is a holdover from last year’s negotiations, which ended up being largely decided by a federal mediator.
The union won that round, as their current labor pact only requires lesson plans to have “sufficient detail to provide guidance to the teacher.”
But Wichita Superintendent John Allison isn’t letting the issue go.
Allison wants district employees to use fully developed lesson plans that identify the lesson’s content and literacy objectives and show how it relates to the state standards. He also wants teachers to demonstrate in writing that they’re following the district’s instructional model.
“I don’t want to get on a plane and have my pilot not have done his checklist and be prepared,” Allison told the Eagle. “That’s very intentional and specific, and education is no different.”
Sound reasonable enough, but not to the United Teachers of Wichita, the local teachers union.
UTW President Randy Mousley described detailed lesson planning as mere “busy work” and warned it would destroy “the art of teaching” and lead to “cookie-cutter lessons.”
In an interview with the newspaper, Mousley conceded that “good instruction starts with good planning,” but argued that it’s too time-consuming.
“There’s only so many hours in a day … and you’ve got to decide which is most important: Is it to produce a piece of paper to satisfy a principal? Or is it putting stuff down – your thoughts about what you’re going to do to impact students in a positive way?” Mousley said.
Mousley’s making a very weak argument, and he probably knows it.
Requiring teachers to keep detailed lesson plans is hardly a radical idea. In fact, one could say that lesson planning is at the heart of the teaching profession.
Teacher colleges spend almost as much time showing students how to design lesson plans as they do training them to be foot soldiers in the fight for social justice.
As for Mousley’s argument that lesson planning undermines “the art of teaching” – well, that should scare the Wichita community greatly.
What Mousley is really saying is that a number of UTW members have gotten so sloppy about lesson planning that they’re barely jotting a few thoughts down on a Post-It note before class begins – if they even bother to do that.
There may be an “art” to such laziness, but it’s not leading to many masterpieces for Wichita taxpayers. Wichita students score below the state average in math and reading, according to Kansas.com.
No wonder Allison wants teachers to use well-crafted lessons plans.
By the way, Mousley obviously understands that once a teacher hits upon a lesson plan that works well, he can save it on his computer and use it every year. That’s hardly a hardship worth derailing contract talks over.
But the fact remains that the UTW is using this silly controversy to create conflict during contract talks and to show Allison the union runs the district, not the superintendent.
The UTW won last year. Local taxpayers better hope the Wichita school board prevails this time around.