Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

Today, edusolidarity.us is collecting blog posts from educators expressing their support for unions.  I recently wrote a few of posts about unions and collective bargaining.
I was reminded by Sue VanHattum's post of a story about a teacher at my wife's school.  This teacher was belligerent to other teachers, and not much better to students.  The school tried to fire the teacher, but the Union backed the teacher because due process was not followed.  Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "I saw Waiting for Superman, I know how this story ends."  Actually, the teacher was placed on probation for a year, did not improve, and then was fired.
[Edited to correct the time line of events.]

I support unions because America was built on the principle of fairness.  Fairness has expanded since America's founding, as slavery has been abolished, women have gained the right to vote, and more recently, gays have been allowed to serve in the military openly (sort of, we'll see).  Unions help preserve fairness by making sure that teachers, like Sue, who are fired unfairly are protected.  That also means that teachers who have no business being in a classroom are given due process before being fired.

Teacher unions help preserve the fairness inherent in the relationship between teachers and the communities they serve.  Teachers have little opportunity for advancement throughout their career, and only if you count department head as advancement.  Teachers are compensated for this lack of advancement by receiving benefits after their careers are over.  However, since the community, usually at the state level, is paying for those benefits, teachers become targets once the other politically convenient avenues of budget balancing are exhausted.  Unions give teachers the strength to demand that communities hold up their end of the bargain.

Teachers need a collective voice to keep the public discourse fair.  Corporations and billionaires have media outlets at their disposal, but no individual teacher in America has enough money to get Fox News at their beck and call.  A single teachers does not have a large audience for 24 hours each day.  (Although larger class sizes will help grow our audience.)  Unions provide a collective voice to teachers and other workers.

Teachers of today are asked to solve problems that we did not create.  Teachers are held accountable for the performance of students who are coming to school hungry.  Teachers have to attempt to undo in eight hours the damage that is done to children in the other sixteen hours by broken families.  Teachers are only asking in return for the support of the communities that they are asked to build.  Unions are there to make sure that teachers get that support.  After all, it's only fair.