Monday, March 21, 2011
Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions
I've always supported unions. Perhaps it has to do with being from Michigan. When I was young, regular working people could afford to buy a house, and maybe even have a cottage on a lake. Not any more. The auto industry in Michigan is decimated. And the unions, too.
The percentage of working people who are unionized has shrunk dramatically in recent years. (About.com says, "While more than one-third of employed people belonged to unions in 1945, union membership fell to 24.1 percent of the U.S. work force in 1979 and to 13.9 percent in 1998." That number is now below 12%.)
It seems to me that this country has gotten more and more conservative, and that many who would benefit from working people having more power are against it. I don't understand the big picture here, but I know that teachers' unions are big, and anti-union forces would be thrilled to weaken us (since those forces support Republican candidates and unions support Democratic candidates). I haven't been active in my union, and I don't see how our small union can help us when the whole state of California is in such huge financial trouble. But maybe...
It seems to me that teachers are the most likely people to speak up for students. Unions don't just push for higher pay. More importantly they push for smaller class sizes, better working conditions (which will usually mean better learning conditions), and fair procedures. If a teacher isn't paid well, she's likely to take on another job in the summer. A well-paid teacher can spend her summer dreaming and planning a better classroom and better lessons for the next year.
When I first started teaching, I thought I wanted to teach kids. I got elementary-certified, and then got hired to teach junior high math. I was no good at classroom discipline, and got fired halfway through my second year by a principal who was no good at helping new teachers improve. (I had a half-year contract, so they claimed they weren't 'firing' me, just letting me go. But I was teaching year-long classes.) All of the other teachers I talked to told me that no one is good at classroom management in their first year or two. I filed a grievance, the union fought for me, and I won.
Ironically, during the months over which this played out, I had gotten work with the community college that paid more. It was decided that the school district owed me any difference between the pay I lost and the pay I earned. I earned more, so they didn't owe me money. They also owed me a job in the fall, but I declined. I had come to realize that teaching at college level was going to be much easier for me. So I got no direct benefits from winning my grievance, but I may have set a precedent that helped other teachers.
I've read much more eloquent posts on why teachers need unions. Here's a complete list for this campaign. And here are a few I especially like: