Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

UPDATE: Go to EDUSolidarity to view similar posts from educators around the country. GothamSchools has also picked up the story.

If you feel like you've seen that title before, it may be because today, a number of teacher bloggers, including NYC Educator and myself, are dedicating our blogs to the topic of solidarity and, dare I say it, pride. In light of repeated and, frankly, ever more ridiculous attacks against the "lavish lifestyles" teachers enjoy, we feel that it's important to make people understand why unions are relevant and important to good teachers and why we feel that union memberships benefit children and public education generally.

I support unions for teachers because they work to guarantee academic freedom for teachers. Though I'm careful to encourage my students to be open-minded and consider multiple perspectives, I do have beliefs and principles of my own, and knowing that I can't be fired for holding or expressing them is important to me. Union membership means being able to be true to who I am without worrying that I'll lose my job over it.

As well, due process is a crucial right for which teachers' unions have fought. At one time, teachers, like many people in this country today, could be fired at any time, for any reason. Teaching sometimes requires trying new things, which then sometimes involves needing to try again; and, teaching is a job into which the people who do it invest enormous amounts of personal effort and energy. Knowing that the job at which I work hard to excel won't be pulled out from under me without warning is very valuable to me.

Finally, unions work to protect some minimal work rules that keep the job somewhat manageable. Although we may disagree among ourselves about whether those rules go far enough or whether they are implemented equitably and consistently by administrators, the rules exist to keep teachers' workloads realistic and our time respected. For teachers whose unofficial work days run ten or twelve hours on a regular basis, the idea that just because our official work days run out at seven hours, we're slacking, is laughable to us. Teaching is an emotionally and physically stressful occupation. Rules that say we're entitled to a lunch break and a limit on our official contact-with-kids hours help teachers to manage their time and stress, making the teacher who comes to your kid in the morning fresh, attentive, and energetic. It's important to note that, even with some union protection, teachers in the U.S. spend far more of their time with your kids than teachers in most other countries, who spend more time engaged in common planning. That can be tough. Unions demand that teacher time be at least somewhat balanced.

Teachers who feel secure in the jobs, who don't fear arbitrary firing because of political or other beliefs, and whose time is respected are better teachers. Kids can feel confidence and comfort from adults, and they respond to it in kind. That makes for a better experience in school and a better education for kids. So as someone who, yes, loves children, I continue to support unions for myself and for all teachers who hope to make teaching their lifelong careers.

(image courtesy the always-hilarious Natalie Dee)

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