Yes, I can think of a better way of spending 9 bucks (or, NCTE, please don’t sell my email address)

Yesterday morning, I received an email from my “good friend” NCTE Membership Services with the subject line “Can you think of a better way to spend 9 bucks?” I didn’t think anything of it and sent it to “archive” unread. Later that day, a professional colleague/friend had a bit of a rant posting on Facebook (which he has since deleted– his prerogative, of course) about this email and more generally about NCTE. So this morning, I thought I’d go find that archived NCTE email and figure out what all the fuss is about.

That “nine bucks” a month is for an “Educators Professional Liability Insurance” plan offered through Forrest T. Jones & Company, which is an insurance company that has been offering these plans for a long time.

This is what they are offering in Michigan:

  • The “Educators Professional Plan” offers “Personalized protection for educators who are employees of educational institutions….The plan pays all your defense costs in addition to liability limit for professional liability claims. It also provides job protection benefits if you’re subjected to a demotion, transfer, reassignment or dismissal.” I have my doubts about that last sentence.
  • Then there’s the “Private-Practice Professional Liability” plan, which probably does have some merit if you are indeed a “self-employed educator.” Of course, anyone working for any kind of school or university is not. Next.
  • Finally, there’s the “Student Educator Professional Plan,” which I guess is for students who are doing student teaching, practicums, internships, and so forth. The line here is that this is “required by many colleges and universities.” Maybe that’s true, but I’ve never heard of that and I would assume that the university is the one doing the insuring of the student.

So, two basic observations:

First, while I am not a lawyer and I am not offering any sort of legal advice or insurance advice, the idea that your average NCTE member (that is, a K-12 teacher or a college professor) needs any of this insurance is dubious.

I’m in a faculty union here at EMU, and in any of these professional liability scenarios, I am certain that they would step in. Besides that, all of the examples they give where this insurance would be justified seem to me to be covered by the school’s insurance– that is, a student gets injured in a classroom or something goes wrong on a field trip. And the example of a student suing a teacher because of a bad grade– please, show me the court case where that actually happened.

When I did a search for “do teachers need professional liability insurance” or “teacher liability insurance scam,” I founds some interesting results. There’s this response from a Texas insurance lawyer who argues it’s a waste of money and, if anything, will make the plaintiff go after the teacher instead of just the school.  There’s this article that is actually a critique of the Michigan Education Association: basically, the MEA argues that one of the big benefits of being in their union is the liability coverage, but this “exposé” of sorts says that’s bull. Here’s a long quote that I think speaks to the lack of need for this insurance:

“That is one of the ‘top shelf’ benefits that they tout for being a member,” said James Perialas, president of the Roscommon Teachers Association, an independent teachers union that was created in 2012 when teachers voted to decertify from the MEA and form a local union.

Perialas said the MEA doesn’t come out and say it is the sole provider of liability insurance for teachers, but implies that it is.

“That is not only false, but is inherently misleading to teachers in the union. A teacher’s primary line of defense is his/her school district. They all purchase a liability policy that covers employees,” Perialas said. “Furthermore, many Roscommon teachers have purchased professional liability insurance through their homeowner’s policy, for approximately $25 a year if they want additional coverage. If they are still not satisfied, the teacher-specific liability insurance can be had with membership in organizations like the Christian Educator’s Association, or the Association of American Educators. I am a member of the AAE, and it also provides litigation insurance if I need a lawyer for a wrongful discharge.

And then there’s this piece about teacher liability insurance in Florida, where this time the union there takes the opposite view. The issue there was there was a proposal making its way through the legislature that would require the state Department of Education to run an insurance program. Here’s a quote from that article:

“The last time the state offered this liability insurance, it cost taxpayers $4 million and paid out one claim,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association. “This is wasteful spending. There are many other places in public schools that could better use whatever dollars are spent on this.”

The Florida Education Association offers liability insurance, and Pudlow said all 140,000 members are covered by that program. Pudlow said his organization has not experienced an uptick in claims in recent years.

So again, IANAL, this isn’t legal advice, find out for yourself, etc., etc., but no, the vast majority of teachers in this country don’t need this insurance.

Which leads me to my second point: NCTE, you should be a better organization than this. 

As it is, NCTE charges its 30,000 or so members between $22 (for students) and $50 a year for membership, and then, if you want to go to one of the organization’s conferences (which is the only reason why I’m a member of NCTE in the first place) it’s another $100-$150. So with this amount of revenue coming in– not to mention the organization’s books, journals, teaching materials, and God only knows what else– is it really necessary to squeeze a few more bucks out of members by selling a list of member emails to an insurance company?

And besides, this isn’t professionally responsible. A big part of what Forest T. Jones & Co. is buying from NCTE (besides the mailing list itself) is the ethos of the organization: that is, NCTE members (and frankly, this particularly applies to newer and more naive members) are being told by this professional organization that this insurance plan is a good idea– certainly a good way to spend $9 a month.  I’m not comfortable with that.

So my friend, NCTE Membership Services, please stop it. I don’t have a problem with you emailing me about dues, about upcoming conferences, or about upcoming publications coming out from NCTE and related presses and organizations. But if you’re going to include me on a mass email you send out, please let it be something that isn’t this spammy. Thanks.

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