WHY do some Oakland teachers union leaders and members have to stoop to boorish behavior to draw attention to their demands?

It's one thing for the union to renew its threat of a strike if a new contract isn't crafted to its satisfaction. Negotiations have been bitter and emotions have run high since spring, when the union rejected the district's contract offer. So, talk of a strike in that context isn't shocking.

What's disturbing, though, were the antics some union members displayed at Wednesday night's school board meeting. One teacher went so far as to compare state School Administrator Randolph Ward to Hitler and to describe him as "a bourgeois black man" who has forgotten his roots. The teacher's comments were loudly cheered as others in the audience laughed and applauded.

We realize the great majority of district teachers, even if frustrated with the pace of contract talks, are civil and care more about their students' academic progress than demonizing Ward.

By all accounts, there are legitimate concerns about health benefits in the current contract talks. Teachers are worried their family health care costs could soar to $3,000 a year under the proposed "cap" on health benefits. Negotiating for teachers' benefits and rights should be serious business, and discussions should be handled seriously, not with sophomoric stunts.

Another low point came when a teacher tried to explain to the school board his plans for a new science and technology charter school in a partnership with NASA. Members of the audience berated the teacher, punctuating his presentation with noisy boos and jeers.

Where do these so-called educators get off demeaning and disrespecting a fellow teacher for daring to propose innovative ways to educate Oakland youths? There is always room for disagreement about methods and philosophy, but any differences should be focused on a specific issue rather than resorting to bullying and heckling out of a resentment against charter schools.

When they take to the podium to speak, would some of Wednesday night's hecklers want to be treated the same way — drowned out or made fun of?

We want to respect our teachers and support them. But when they use such juvenile tactics, it is hard to take them seriously. And what kind of role model are these teachers setting for their students? Will students learn, by observing their teachers, that the only way to express opinions is by being disruptive and disrespectful, outshouting any opposing viewpoints and resorting to derogatory name-calling to make their points?

It's time for the leaders of the teachers union to grow up, tone down the theatrics and work with the administration to find the best solutions to the myriad problems facing the district.

According to teachers union President Ben Visnick, the union "has been reasonable" at the bargaining table and is ready to reach a fair contract. He says the teachers have made concessions, and the district must do the same.

That all sounds fine. If only such civility could be extended to other public meetings, there might be more movement on all sides.