Monday, January 2, 2012

Why Unions?

On her "Walking to School" blog, Mary Tedrow recently urged the NEA to "man up" and start leading the way.  She said:
Assume the responsibility for improving education and take on the role of Educator-in-Chief.  We know what conditions are needed for good teaching.  It's time to put our effort, our money, and our mouths where our hearts are: demand what has already been proven best for the children of the next generation by demanding the training, induction, and working conditions that allows good teaching to flourish. Do it on OUR terms, from the position of Effective Teaching, not a corporate manual.  The plan has already been outlined in the Commission report Transforming Teaching.

Her post prompted me to think about why I've never joined the NEA or it's local chapter.  First, I've never been shown how the NEA can benefit me.  Second, I've never been shown how the NEA can benefit students.  In my years of teaching, I've come to view the NEA as well-intentioned but largely inconsequential.

Can anyone tell me why I should belong to the NEA?  That's an honest question.  I don't have a negative opinion toward it, I just haven't seen the fruits of their labor.


  1. I withdrew my membership the minute they endorsed Obama. I would have done the same if they had endorsed Bush before him. I simply cannot support a "union" that stands by Race to the Top. It's simply wrong. I've heard the excuse that "it's the lesser of two evils." But my question is, "Why choose evil in the first place?"

  2. Do you have prep periods? Due process, so you cannot be arbitrarily fired? Health benefits? Sick days? Equal pay for equal work? A cap on class size (in the city where I teach, the ONLY thing preventing the district from putting 50 kids in a class is the union contract)?

    Is there a limit to the number of classes you can be forced to teach out of your license area? Are their limits to how many classes you must teach consecutively? Is there any kind of formal mechanism whereby the principal must consult with the faculty, however limited?

    Would you like me to continue?

    If you do have these things, four of which are of direct, inarguable benefit to students, then you can thank the unions, despite their many shortcomings.

  3. This is worth watching:

  4. The video just shows the governor of Virginia claiming that his state has done quite well without a teacher's union. Virginia is a right to work state so unions have no collective bargaining power. Any good comparisons of states with strong vs. weak or no unions?

  5. As a teacher in rural VA it would seem to me that teacher voices are largely absent from most decisions affecting education. The profession is paid lip service in Richmond and represented at the table by individuals who either do not still teach in a classroom or were seemingly selected/appointed/chosen because they were willing to conform with agendas. The governor's comments reflect this. A slow and gradual weakening of professional values to the degree where to speak up is now viewed as unwelcome or obstructionist. Most of what our state's governor described as far as what managers should do does not happen in any district where I have worked. "Managers" are seeking higher paying jobs or office. Feathers in the cap, not what is good for the system. How else can a 28 year old be an assistant principal then get promoted? And they certainly don;t listen to their teachers. They listen to the central office and what keeps them in line with AYP.

    Read the section where MD governor O’Malley said. “Look, we’re either going to work together to improve student achievement for our kids or you’re going to have to find something else to do."

    The comments on that article also reveal what I describe as a hatred of unions(and thus teachers who are in them). It makes things in our state and many others tough and likely getting worse. Thanks for nothing VEA and NEA. You mean well..honest but I feel my dues do very little to help me or those I teach. I doubt you've done much to inform the governor what I deal with everyday.

  6. Michael,

    Thanks for the comment. I am starting to think that this issue might be very different from state to state. As a Virginia teacher, the anonymous comment above resonates with me. In our most recent local struggle with increases in student loads and teaching additional classes, the local union has had zero effect.

    Maybe they can't have a bigger impact in a state like Virginia, but I would sure like to see them try.

  7. Not sure how I should weigh in here as I agree with anonymous from rural VA that it seems teachers don;t have much weigh to throw around in our state. I generally support unions especially after following what occurred in Wisc. but don't tend to favor their leadership as much...I guess I feel these issues should very much be local.

    I'd comment a bit on some of the benefits mentioned but would risk simply complaining.

    Maybe Diane Ravitch could head a Union? :)

  8. I know this is an older post now, but I can't help but comment. I think, honestly, that you are looking at the relationship between you and the union in the wrong way. It shouldn't be about what the union can do for you right now--it should be about what you can add to the collective voice of the union.

    I will admit my bias now--I work for the VEA (and am a former teacher leader from Charlottesville). I have been reading your blog this morning after looking for more media about what the average teacher thinks HB576 and SB438. I was sad to see this post, since it seems to me that your voice is one we would love to add to our crowd. Do feel free to contact me ( if you would like to discuss this more.

    In a state like Virginia, we can only be as strong as the teachers in the buildings allow us to be via their actions.