Another election season has come and gone, and it was another season of vitriol and divisiveness pitting one group against another in the name of gathering votes. It’s hard to turn on the news or pick up a newspaper without reading about the divide in America. One group seems to be a scapegoat year after year, for as long as I can remember: teachers’ unions.
It seems the popular thing to do is state that teachers’ unions are the reason American education is “failing.” (That’s a thread for another day.) I’ve heard teachers’ unions are protecting the bad teachers, and that the teachers’ unions are so powerful that no one else has control of education. If this were true, things would be a whole lot different in American education.
I am a proud union member. The teachers’ unions are their members, they’re not a faceless corporate entity that exists outside of the world of education.
When you say that you hate teachers’ unions, this is what I hear:
- You hate professional learning. My journey with the National Education Association has been centered around professional development because that is a large part of what they offer me. I’ve been able to choose topics that interest me, beyond what I am offered by my district, and continue to grow as a professional. When I decided to pursue National Board Certification, the gold standard of teacher certification, the Arizona Education Association assisted me financially, granting me the money to pay for one of the components. All this professional development directly impacts my teaching practice and benefits my students.
- You hate due process. One thing I often hear is that teachers’ unions “protect bad teachers.” In truth, being a union member means I can call on a representative to ensure that I receive due process when faced with an allegation or disciplinary action. Of course, the media doesn’t really report on the more common complaints, just the sensational ones. Even in those cases, unions can assist members in hiring a lawyer so that their legal rights are preserved.
- You hate reduced standardized testing. The National Education Association and its state affiliates have been united in lobbying for reduced testing requirements for students across the United States. This lobbying has taken the form of phone calls, emails, legislative visits, petitions, and rallying by dedicated active and prospective union members. We see the detrimental effects on our students and have been making strides to reduce testing time.
- You hate smaller class sizes and increased supply budgets. The story of the Red for Ed movement may focus on educator salaries, but increasing per pupil funding is about putting more teachers back in the classroom, effectively lowering class sizes. It’s about increasing school supply budgets, so teachers aren’t constantly creating GoFundMe and Donors Choose accounts to supplement the money they spend from their own pockets to provide their students with learning opportunities.
- You hate building repairs and new construction. In Arizona, the Arizona Education Association is one of the plaintiffs in a capital funding lawsuit which states that the school building renewal fund has been underfunded, resulting in a lack of funds to repair aging buildings. This means that school districts must ask voters to approve bonds to make these repairs and without the bonds, repairs can be left undone and safety issues will arise.
- You hate that educators have opinions about education. Why is this? Why is it okay for someone to seek medical advice from a professional but when it comes to education the knowledge of professional educators is easily overlooked? Teachers’ unions are, after all, made of highly educated professionals who have devoted their lives to educating the kids of our communities. We know that you won’t always agree with our professional opinions, but we ask that you take these into consideration.
As we move past this election and into a new legislative session here in Arizona, I hope that policymakers and the general public alike can take a step back from blaming the teachers’ unions and ask, “What do we have in common?” and, “How can we work together?” I belong because I care about my colleagues, my community, and the future of my profession. I love being an educator and will always work to make that joy possible for a new generation of educators.
From this proud union member to you, what do we have in common and how can we work together?