Yesterday was the first day of school in my district.
I have been too busy building relationships and making my classroom a safe learning environment today to be worrying about anything else in education.
But Monday, for Labor Day, I did take a minute to remind all the people making union jokes, that A) they had the day off because of unions and B) I am a union worker.
That’s right. I am a member of the union. Card carrying member of the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
Sometimes I don’t feel proud to announce that. Sometimes it seems more trouble than it’s worth to tell people that yes, I am a member of the Teacher’s Union, and YES I think our union is necessary.
It’s hard to defend something that is so incredibly misunderstood and pigeon-holed. Non-union members are convinced that they know what we are about: greed. They call our leaders “Union Bosses” and sneer at any benefits we get as somehow taking money out of their pockets and throwing it in the trashcan.
What people don’t understand is that without our union, the rules go out the window. Teachers can be fired willy nilly and made to work ridiculous hours for no more money.
Here is the reality of why the union is necessary and important to me as a public school teacher:
1. Due Process: A misconception about the teacher’s union is that once you are a tenured teacher, it is virtually impossible to be let go. Wrong. If I was a truly bad teacher, all it takes is plenty of documentation. The only thing that the union has control over is to make sure a due process is followed. That there is documentation and proof of why the teacher should no longer be employed by the district. The union doesn’t want terrible teachers representing them either.
2. Collective Bargaining. I am not really sure what people think this is. The way our politicians make it sound, the union stands there and makes demands and never makes compromises, but will strike if they don’t get what they want. This couldn’t be less true. Union leaders and members come to the same table as the administrators, and there is bargaining going on. Collectively. So one side proposes something, and the other side counters. We will give this if you give that. We want this and you can have that. Until they reach an agreement. AGREEMENT. No, not everyone gets everything they want. But neither does everyone lose. At least that is what is supposed to happen.
3. Someone looking out for me when I forget to. Teachers by nature are givers and helpers. Most are in the profession because at one point they felt good about helping someone. Helpers tend to put everyone before themselves. This is a noble quality until the helper completely loses herself and what is good for her in all the helping she is doing. The union is there to say, “Wait. You are a professional. You have multiple degrees. You DESERVE to be paid for your time.”
Unions are there because helpers get taken advantage of. People believe because they care, teachers should be doing things for free or putting up with less…because most will if they can keep their job and afford to do so. They are not in it for the money or the perks. They are in it to make a difference.
So we need someone to demand more for us.
Someone to fight for us to get what any other professional with our level of education and responsibility would get.
And then end up with less because money talks loudest.
But at least someone has my back when I am busy helping a group of students rewrite papers after my contracted work time.