Was there some teacher who made a difference for you?
In a just world, what should a good mid-career teacher be earning?
$70,000; $80,000 [compared with] maybe $60,000; $65,000 now. And end of career: $100,000. And we should raise the standards. We should make it -- not that it isn't difficult -- a little more arduous. When you raise standards and require more of teachers, and [pay] -- not merit pay, but pay them well -- then you're going to attract the best and the brightest.
Should tenure be harder to get too?
Me, personally -- not speaking for the organization -- I would have no problem with changing the tenure rules and extending probation. We should not take tenure away once you get it but [have] some form of recertification.
You're the face of UTLA, but there's also a union house of representatives and a board of directors. Do you all get along?
With great difficulty! This job is about 100 times more difficult than I ever expected it to be, in the external and internal conflicts, the personalities, the different agendas. Sometimes your closest friends are your worst enemies because they're pushing you to do something that you really don't want to do. We go at it from time to time. A couple of things make it all right for me: my wife and my children, and teachers I run into. Ninety-eight percent of them say, "Thank you for what you did. I know it's tough but keep fighting."
What's your relationship with Supt. Ramon C. Cortines compared with his predecessor, David L. Brewer?
Ray and I have a very [much] closer relationship. And that goes back to him being a classroom teacher. I never blindside Ray.
How do you feel about President Obama and teachers?
Very disappointed. He attacked us. He would have been better served if he'd called an education summit to come up with ideas that should have animated him on how we can change public education.
The mayor and Eli Broad are supporters of alternatives like charters. Don't you agree they want the best schools too?
I think they do want to help. Antonio came from a poverty situation. Why would I doubt that he wanted to fix education for kids in poverty? Eli didn't grow up in affluence. We get together and have breakfast occasionally. He and I share the same desire to destroy the bureaucracy and drive resources and accountability to the schools.
As a teacher and a dean,how did you get students to pay attention and stay with the program?
I was tough on the kids, but they knew it was all about them. Girls who were wearing low-cut [tops], I'd call the parents and say, "You have to leave work and [get] your daughter." Kids who [wore] sagging [pants], I'd say, "You better buy your child a belt; they'll be suspended." I worked for three great principals as a dean and they backed up everything I did.
Some people believe the unions are putting teachers' needs before students.
The idea that I put teachers' interests ahead of kids' interests is not accurate. I have to be mindful of the rights of my teachers. I think most parents who know me will say that I have the interests of students at heart. As Randi Weingarten [the head of the American Federation of Teachers] says, "Good for kids, fair for teachers."
You beat the incumbent for this job five years ago. What was your mission then?
I had to create a strong relationship with the media, my way of getting the teachers' messages out. And I was promised that I can go into one room and scream and yell at [LAUSD officials and staff] for being stupid, and walk in the other room and work with them to solve a problem. That's the way I operate here. I get angry at people. They get angry at me. But I never let that stand in the way of having a working relationship. Never happens. So occasionally when I go off on people in the district, they know, well, that's just Duffy.
firstname.lastname@example.org. This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.