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In connection with a nationwide call for teachers to blog about why we support union involvement, and as a show of support for teachers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and, well, everywhere, I'd like to explain why I, as a teacher, support - and belong to - my local union.

1. I like due process.

I like the idea that, if I am actually granted tenure, then I have a fair amount of security in my job. Not security from being held accountable, because everyone should be held accountable for their performance, but security from an administrator deciding they don't like me, and firing me based on personal prejudices. If I suck at my job, fire me. Really. Personal feelings, however, should not be a deciding factor.

2. I like having "people."

I'm not rich. I doubt that any recently-minted teacher is. So, should I happen to get sued by a parent because I've managed to piss their kiddo - or them - off, I would likely have to defend myself in court because I couldn't afford a lawyer. Since I'm part of the union, this is not necessarily so. I view my union membership dues, in part, as my own personal "legal defense fund." I don't ever plan on anything happening that would require me to seek out legal counsel, but one can never tell in this litigious society. As my mom always said, "Better safe than sorry."

3. I like being supported - especially when I have a problem that needs fixing.

Maybe it's part of being a Language Arts teacher, but I believe that everyone has a story to tell. Problem is, especially in literature, if you don't have a good "publisher," your story might be doomed to loiter on a Goodwill book shelf forever. The situation is somewhat the same with my union membership. If something happened and I had a story, i.e. I received a formal evaluation that had another teacher's name in it, or my initial yearly evaluation looked exactly the same as another teacher's with the exception of our names because my evaluator only changed names rather than typing a new evaluation for each teacher (yes, this really happened), then the union supports me in telling my story, rather than leaving me to be the lone voice crying out from the "bookshelf." Without union support, and without the other teacher corroborating my story, it would have been like it never happened. However, such a thing happening just isn't right and should be addressed without leaving me to fear that I will be fired as a result of speaking out and asking for an authentic evaluation that was actually for me. If I don't know where to improve, then I can't.

4. I like having a say in my professional life.

Last year, we got to give input on our collective bargaining agreement. That's right - we all got to be a part of the decision process - something that sounds remotely like an election, but in our case, every vote does count. Initially, because of overall budget cuts, we faced a percentage cut of our salary, plus becoming frozen on the pay scale. As the bargaining process continued, the building reps and bargaining team informed the teachers (yes, even non-union ones, because the bargaining team fights for their salary and benefits too) what was going on at every step of the way. In the end, we ended up being able to move a "step" on the salary schedule, and we did not have to take a pay cut. Before this was finally decided, though, all of the union members were able to cast their vote on whether or not we accepted their final bargaining decision. Granted, we couldn't really say no, but the point is I got to personally sign my name saying that I agreed to what they'd decided, and I could have decided not to sign. That counts for something, right, having at least a tiny bit of control over what happens in one's career?

5. I like knowing that the system works.

Apart from my issue with my evaluation, I've never had to call on the union for any active support. However, I have seen other people exercise their democratic right to due process:

Last year, a good first-year teacher was non-renewed, and the building principal gave no reason why when he informed the teacher - to this day we still don't know the reason. Well, the teacher was more than a little upset. He'd received decent evaluations, and hadn't felt like anyone in particular was "after" him. One way or another - and not through his doing - the students found out that he'd not been asked back for the 2010-2011 school year. The kids liked the teacher, and were more than a tad bit pissed. They took action, posting fliers which said things like "Save Bueller" (not his real name) all over the wing in which he taught. Administrators - one in particular, really - would go through and tear down the signs. The kids would put them right back up. They staged a sit-in. They demanded to speak to the principal - a request to which the principal finally acquiesced, though the Superintendent sat next to him during the student interviews. Bueller taught Social Studies. The whole process was a lovely bit of irony, and I walked over to their wing just to bear witness to the kids' protest.

Well, the teacher decided that, given the fight the kids were staging, the fact that he hadn't been told directly by his evaluator that he was doing a poor job, and the fact that he loved being their teacher, he owed it to them to go in front of the school board and contest his non-renewal, an opportunity we would all have should the opportunity arise. Based on the advice of a school board member friendly with our local union representatives, he went before the school board, and read a letter he'd written explaining the situation and his feelings about it. As a result of his action, and the fact that the school board agreed with him and thought that it wasn't fair to get rid of competent first-year teachers without reason, especially without giving them the opportunity to improve, all of last year's non-renewals were overturned. Bueller was back, along with several other first- and second-year teachers. Unfortunately I wasn't able to be present at the meeting, but I was kept abreast of the progress via text message.

I would like to close by saying that I don't in any way expect the union to protect me should I do something ridiculous. I'm honest enough with myself to own my behavior, and to admit if I've done something idiotic or I just suck as a teacher (I reflect constantly on what I can do better; believe me, teachers have to). However, I like the idea that I do have some protection from personal attacks, or personal retaliation from administrators, and that is something everyone should have.

For more posts like mine, see this page.

Originally posted to Shakespeares Sister on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 05:16 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Educator Voices, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Great examples (7+ / 0-)

      and all necessary!

      Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

      by Temmoku on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 06:08:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This union teacher in the Hoosier State . . . (5+ / 0-)

      . . . couldn't agree more.  

      One thing the management in my district - who really a decent, smart, and well-meaning people, for the most part - really HATE is due process.

      The Wrong is totally up in arms with their false talking points of: "Teachers are never fired."

      It's bullshit of course. All due process requires is that, in order to fire a teacher, you have to document the areas in which the teacher has done poorly, show that some effort to mediate the problem was taken, and then show that the efforts didn't work.

      This is common sense.

    •  Very eloquently said. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister

      Thanks for a great diary. If I could plead for just one thing to be changed, it would be this:

      Not security from being held accountable, because everyone should be held accountable for their performance

      In fact, while I completely agree with your sentiment, I would call on you to recognize that in today's parlance, the entire idea of "accountability" has become no more than a conservative codeword for "union busting". They present "accountability" as if that means that workers who have any union protections at all aren't "accountable" (and thus shouldn't have any union protections). Perhaps I'm overly attuned to usage of one word, but as a Language Arts teacher, I know you understand the power of a single word and how it can slant a debate.

      I believe that in every country the people themselves are more peaceably and liberally inclined than their governments. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

      by Blue Knight on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 12:28:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's exactly the way (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shakespeares Sister

        anti-union folks frame it, and they say so explicitly. Unions make it where nobody can get fired for any reason, so they say. Just listen to them whine about the postal service.

        liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

        by RockyMtnLib on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 06:54:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Nice piece (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister, iTeachQ

      excellent topic

      I taught as a union member at a state college for three years.  It was nice having the support.  

      One of the points I would like to see clarified in the rhetoric on this issue is this one: against whom does the union protect one?  

      In right wing rhetoric, it is always the taxpayer.  As though the department head against whom I in fact had a grievance is the taxpayers themselves, all of them, represented in his ugly countenance!  

      No.  It is not the taxpayers who make arbitrary, cruel and sometimes illegal hiring, promotion, retention and other decisions.  It is -- well -- other union members!!  The dept head in my case was running for a leadership position in the union.  

      In the case of professors at least, this is often the case...

      When it is not another union member, it is merely an individual or group of humans who have govt jobs.  

      It is never the taxpayers!

      Youth lives by personality, age lives by calculation. -- Aristotle

      by not2plato on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 12:38:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good to see you here. (5+ / 0-)

    WWRHD? What Would Robin Hood Do?

    by TomP on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:07:38 AM PDT

  •  Union proud (8+ / 0-)

    Though I am now part of a non-union College faculty, I have in the past been a unionized educator and I proudly wear red for teachers and unions today! The work of educators is among the most undervalued and underappreciated work in this country. The process of educating children is not just about teaching them to read, write and do arithmetic. It is about making sure our kids are in a safe and productive environment for 8 hours each day. It is about teaching them the social skills necessary to operate within a complex social world. It is about understanding a student as an individual, with all the quirks and unique details that each of us bring with us, and trying to navigate that individual to the best outcome possible. It is about providing children with the confidence and skills to engage challenging problems in a world that increasingly needs creative and engaged thinkers. It is about passing on the value of community. It is ten jobs wrapped into one and we underpay and overwork our teachers everyday. I am proud of where I am at in my life and what I have achieved thus far, and I owe a large portion of that to having had excellent teachers from kindergarten through graduate school.

    Thank you Ms. Miller, Mrs. Schubert, Mrs. Kiker, Ms. Fink, Mrs. Clampett, Mrs. Selekman, Mrs. Mahoney, Mrs. Fox, Ms. Corea, Mr. Alt, Mrs. Loeffler, and every other fantastic teacher I had the privilege to be taught by along the way.

    Unions do not need to be perfect institutions to be important and beneficial. You don't need to be part of a union to value the role unions play in society.

    Teacher proud! Union proud!

  •  my mom was a teacher and a principal... (7+ / 0-)

    even when she had to deal with a teachers' strike on the front lines (she was an elementary school principal), she totally understood the need for the union.  The level of sexual harrassment she saw in the 1960s when most administrators were men and elementary teachers were women infuriated her.

    good diary!

  •  Would that EVERYONE had these protections (12+ / 0-)

    I don't get the petty attitude I encounter among union opponents where people are like, "I get treated like crap at work, so you should, too."  Why do people want to tear others down to their level, instead of aspiring to build themselves up?

     Everyone should have a say in how their company functions, and no one should be subject to dismissal without reasonable cause.

    (Great diary, too!)

    •  Crabs in a bucket (5+ / 0-)

      And many conservatives fail to see the irony by posting this list - falsely attributed to Abe Lincoln:

      1.  You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
      2.  You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong
      3.  You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
      4.  You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
      5.  You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
      6.  You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
      7.  You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
      8.  You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
      9.  You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
      10  You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.

      liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

      by RockyMtnLib on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:00:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  But teachers are living in style (5+ / 0-)

      I think the fact that Jon Stewart's mom was a teacher makes him feel these attacks personally. Whatever makes him do less of his false equivalences is a good thing.

      "Only vigilance and resistance to this baby dictator, Barack Hussein Obama, can prevent the Khmer Rouge from appearing in this country." Michael Savage

      by bay of arizona on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:08:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Watch their reaction when you ask the (8+ / 0-)

      logical follow up to their statements of "You people in unions have it so good" and like that.  The logical response would be to say:

      "Well, why aren't YOU fighting for those same rights and benefits where you work?"

      Watch their reaction.

      And they call the unemployed lazy.

      "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

      by zenbassoon on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:04:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I really value your comments, SS. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister, Amber6541

    And all your points are extremely valid, and well supported.

    I am one of the many who - now please don't shoot me, TEACH me instead - has been informed that teachers' unions and tenure are too often about protecting the less able. Your examples certainly help counter that, so I thank you.

    But let me ask, how do we deal with either the reality or the impression that tenured, unioned teachers are protected unfairly?

    •  would that I knew, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nzanne, ladybug53, CarolinW

      or I would definitely be doing it.

      Today was a day, as mentioned above, to attempt to draw back the "curtain," so to speak, on the reality of teacher unions.

      I can vouch for the fact that several tenured teachers in my building are currently in "remediation," which means that they improve or they have to go. Some of them should; some of them are merely targets of an administration that doesn't like them. At least, for the latter, they have the chance to "improve" before personal conflicts move them out the door. For the former, though, as I said, it's the best for the school, and the students.

      "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

      by Shakespeares Sister on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:21:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Their complaints change once they learn what (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nzanne, ladybug53

      the actual process is.  

      All it would take is tweaks and some streamlining for tenure to be "reformed".

      "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

      by zenbassoon on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:06:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Tenure really doesn't exist in most states (4+ / 0-)

      At best you have a system of Probationary or Permanent teachers. During probation teachers can usually be let go at the end of the school year for any or no reason. Once a teacher achieves Permanent status they do get more rights but they can still be does take longer and requires more process of course.

      Personally, I think those of us who are pro Teacher Unions should strongly discourage the use of the term "tenure" -- it has become synonamous (God how do you spell that word?) with "can't be fired for any reason whatsoever".

      "Asking a republican why they're a hypocritical tool is like asking water why it is wet." Patriot4Peace, New Year's Eve '09

      by ca union goon on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:33:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What unions provide... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister, Amber6541

      _Help when administrators treat a teacher unfairly (give someone a horrible schedule or load up the difficult students, give petty critiques, etc).  We forget administrators in the national argument; but, honestly, they are a problem at many schools.

      _Support when students or parents make unwarranted accusations.

      _Prevent educators from having to individually negotiate benefits and ensuring that everyone is paid the same rate with the same years of education and service.  Education would be hurt by having teachers compete or to be paid according to some arbitrary measures that can be easily corrupted (friend of administrator/school board member, etc).

      _The potentiality of a district replacing good, experienced teachers that are more highly-paid (more years in and more education) with cheaper newbies.

      Honestly, in this era of corporatizing schools (spreadsheets, data collection, testing outcomes), we are seeing more school boards, administrators, and politicians that are trying to place education into a flawed business model.  As such, more than ever, teachers need the support of our unions as a pushback against those who are seeking to ruin public education.

      We cannot solve the problems that we have created with the same thinking that created them." - Albert Einstein

      by CarolinW on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 01:33:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I actually wish (4+ / 0-)

    that I, as a substitute teacher, could join a union.  In some ways, I think we subs are even more vulnerable than union-represented classroom teachers.  We're paid by the day, have no benefits, and few chances for any inservice training ourselves.  I can handle humanities content -- after all, I have a graduate degree -- but there's precious little mentoring for the behavior management/classroom management end of things.  

    Substitute teachers are left to figure out the school's systems and practices on our own.  When you float all over the district to cobble together something resembling an income, it becomes a lot to handle, because all the schools are doing something different.  If there is a problem with a kid or a group of kids, it gets really dicey.  You don't know the kids well, so being able to call out a troublemaker is tough -- they will lie and tell you a name that isn't really theirs, or sit where they please in defiance of the seating chart.   The known troublemakers refuse to accept your attempts to exercise some discipline.  I have had them back-talk me when trying to send them to ISS for their disruptiveness.  And not all administrations are supportive of their subs.  It's a very vulnerable situation for the sub, because you're completely an at-will employee.

    "Fighting Fascism is Always Cool." -- Amsterdam Weekly, v3, n18 (-8.50, -7.23)

    by Noor B on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 08:04:26 AM PDT

    •  some locals do represent subs (4+ / 0-)

      Have you approached the union leadership in your town? It depends on the law of your state but it isn't unheard of.

      "Asking a republican why they're a hypocritical tool is like asking water why it is wet." Patriot4Peace, New Year's Eve '09

      by ca union goon on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:35:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My God I remember so many times (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Noor B

      in my school days when a sub came in. The students smelled blood in the water and went for the kill, so to speak.

      A couple of times though, the regular teacher got wind of the students acting up, and dealt with those students pretty harshly, nothing illegal, but in a way that would make them never even THINK of doing such a thing again.

      liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

      by RockyMtnLib on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 06:42:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  People have no idea how capricious, petty and (6+ / 0-)

    arbitrary school administrators can be if left on their own with no checks on their power.  School boards, as well, that go out of their way to have school board elections held at odd times of the year to minimize the public participation to a point that even politically active people have no idea when school board elections are held, nor do they care.  Teachers need protection from administrators like the story listed above where they attempted to discharge a teacher with no explanation at all.  If someone is being let go, they deserve an explanation.  Anything less is a violation of the fairness that used to be seen as an American virtue.

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:36:21 AM PDT

    •  You Are Correct... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister, ladybug53

      Many admisnistrators do terminate unfairly.  But, this is a problem everywhere that we have employees.  You are dealing with human nature, after all.

      But an area that the Unions need to improve on is publicizing how much they help the employer and the good workers.  When a Union works with the employer to terminate an employee that has had due process, they need to publicise their efforts.

      Unfortunately, Unions mostly get publicity when they help a deadbeat employee keep their job.  This gives the Union a bad reputation and hurts all the really good employees.

      A number of years ago, I worked with a papermill that had a serious drug use/dealing problem.  It affected not only productivity, but morale and safety.  The union leadership worked with management to find and eleiminate the bad apples causing the problem.  I was aware of the Union help because I worked with the papermill.  But the public only hears about the Union when they are defending someone who is indefensible

  •  I think everyone already knows the benefits (0+ / 0-)

    a union provides to the teachers. What you should address is how do the teachers' unions benefit the public at large and the taxpayers. Do they benefit the public at large? Do they always benefit the public at large? Is it always the case that "what is good for teachers is good for America"?

    •  Answers: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister

      given the alternatives: yes, yes, and yes.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 02:13:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You need to diary your reasons (0+ / 0-)

        "yes, yes, yes" is not exactly convincing to people who need convincing.

        •  I'll start with the last one: (0+ / 0-)

          1. Is it always the case that "what is good for teachers is good for America"?  Yes, unequivocally.  It doesn't mean that teachers get everything right, or that we can't do need to have some serious conversations about the state, goals, and trajectory of our public education, but any policy that is bad for teachers is unequivocally bad for education.  Given that:

          2-3. Do [teachers' unions] [always] benefit the public at large? Yes, because it represents the most practical buffer against the kind of negative policies suggested in question 1.   That's assuming you believe in public education at all, which... I hope so.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 10:35:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  This reminds me: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister

      when I was at the Denver version of the Rally to Restore the American Dream on Feb. 26, I also participated in the Rally for Choice. I got an orange poster to carry - can't remember off the top of my head what it said.

      I'm not a teacher, but when it was all done, I walked into the McDonalds on the 16th Street Mall to use the restroom and get a sundae. Some guy in his 50s or 60s walked past me and said "Another whiney teacher, huh?" I didn't respond, but thought "Psht! Whatever, dude."

      liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

      by RockyMtnLib on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 06:56:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When I was subbing in Wisconsin (5+ / 0-)

    I ran up against a powerful enemy in the administration in the county I was working in.  I had been working steadily for over a year and was consistently told I was one of the best subs they had, but for some reason a higher-up had it out for me.  I recieved a notice for a hearing and on the required date I went to a hearing/kangaroo court, except there was a union rep there to hold my hand and guide me through, actually he saved my ass from getting fired.  I had no idea up to that point that I had belonged to a union, I was just working my way through grad school, and what this administrator had lined up against me could have made my life miserable. All of the incidents that occured had occured, but the way they were written up made me look entirely unresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.  I didn't get fired.

    The incident taught me a lot about politics and that people are crazy if they want to work without unions.

    I knew my days were numbered, so I took a job in another district not long after.

  •  I work in a state that doesn't allow teachers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to belong to unions, doesn't allow collective bargaining, and all we can join are "associations."  We have to take what we get and be grateful.

  •  Solidarity forever! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Tell it, sister!
    Image Hosting by

    We are all in this together.
    Remember the poor.

    If you can play the cowbell, thank a sheet metal worker.

    by ruleoflaw on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 12:23:59 PM PDT

  •  Why evaluations shouldn't be based on test scores (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister, murphy

    Just for laughs, go to the
    Connecticut State Department of Education website.

    Scroll down on the right, and click on "Student Assessment".

    Ha ha, fooled you, didn't I!

    It doesn't work!

    And it hasn't since the beginning of the Connecticut Mastery Tests - and it's the only existing link to the special education MIST proctor sites - which allows teachers to give the CMT to sped kids on the computer.

    "won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?"

    by Sprinkles on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 01:26:00 PM PDT

  •  I bet this mother supports unions, too (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister

    She's opted out of the NCLB testing b-s for her kids, for "religious" reasons-- (She had few choices, so picked that one.)

    I say "RIGHT ON MOM !"

    That garbage is against my religion, too.

    All it does is make Bush family members richer. In case you forgot:

    I must be dreaming...

    by murphy on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 02:19:42 PM PDT

  •  I salute teachers - they do God's work. Move over, (0+ / 0-)

    Lloyd Blankfein (of Goldman Sucks).

    Nov 2, 2010: Voters to Obama: "Yes, we did. We looked forward, not backward".

    by Funkygal on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 04:46:53 PM PDT

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