Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Post for EduSolidarity: Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

I am blogging today for EduSolidarity.  Teachers have been asked to do the following: In this piece, please explain your own reasons for being a proud union member and/or supporter. Including personal stories can make this a very powerful piece. It would be great to also explain how being a union member supports and enables you to be the kind of teacher that you are. We want these posts to focus not only on our rights, but also on what it takes to be a great teacher for students, and how unions support that.

I have always supported unions.  My mother was a music teacher and my father was a political reporter.  They both believed that all Americans have a voice and that our voices can be found and heard through our unions.  When I became a teacher I immediately joined NEA.  I joined NEA because I knew that I would need a support base. It became very clear to me from day one that the support base for teachers honestly was not found within the government or the administrative building.  Mandates, state and federal, often took precedence over what we, as teachers, knew was best for our students. Teachers have never been respected, at least during my teaching career, and I knew that the union was my base – my support – my go-to-group when I needed someone to advocate for the needs of my students.

I still believe this.  I do believe however that the union’s ability to support us has been weakened over the years.  I don’t pretend to know a lot about the inner workings of NEA, but I will say that I felt as though they began to spend more time soothing the needs of the higher ups than the needs of the teachers.

However, I believe that this is our opportunity to have unions step it up.  We need to think radically – we need to transform the public education system.  Unions can help us do this.  They can make our voices louder.

One of the districts I worked in was extremely anti-union.  I was a new teacher and I had to hide the fact that I belonged to the union.  I was scared of the consequences should they find out, and I was actually bullied a bit as certain anti-union teachers attempted to discover where my alliance was.  The bullying only made me dig my heels in further – if anything, the bullying made me realize how incredibly important it was that I have my union backing me up.

During this time I also embraced methods which were considered radical in my community – whole language.  I had to hide my beliefs about whole language and eventually it was discovered that I did not use the basal.  They discovered that I wanted my students to read for meaning using actual books  - radical idea, huh?  The federal mandates right now are so constraining that I can imagine “hiding best practices” is very difficult.  There are many teachers right now, shutting doors, trying to utilize best practices in the solitude of their classrooms and in the face of Race to the Top.  This is why we need unions.

We need unions to advocate for our children by recognizing teachers as professionals. In Finland, teachers are trusted to choose best practices.  We should not have to hide best practices behind closed doors  - all of this makes collaboration impossible!  It pits one teacher against another.  Teachers must talk, share, and grow.  One teacher’s learning should enhance and provoke thinking for all teachers in the building.   

I need my union to stand by teachers and recognize that we do indeed possess the skills, the spirit, the creativity, the experience and the background education necessary to discover what is needed for each individual student in our classroom.

Our unions must stand by us and support, promote and make America believe the true reality that exists.  And the reality looks like this…

We are professionals.  We have prepared ourselves for teaching by building knowledge of human development, human learning, pedagogy, curriculum, language, and cognition.  We know the history of education.  We know the competing philosophies of education. We have carefully built personal philosophies that provide us with criteria for making teaching decisions in the best interests of our pupils.  We have a broad liberal education and an in-depth knowledge of the content areas in which we teach.  – Paragraph 7, A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers by Kenneth S. Goodman 1990.

I  believe President Obama thinks he has the union’s vote no matter what he does.  I think our unions need to examine this and proceed carefully.  Obama obviously supports the corporate education reform movement.  I would ask that our unions take a closer look at this and help educators move forward with some decisions which will require us to get louder.  I demand that our country begin to respect educators and I believe that our unions can help create this shift by speaking more loudly than we each can speak alone.  I demand that our president listen to us.  Unions can make this happen.  Unions can help save our public school system on behalf of America’s children.

In Solidarity,
Peggy Robertson

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