Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

There are plenty of times when I disagree with Michael Mulgrew and the UFT. There have been more than a few occasions in conversations about teaching when I've had to admit my own confusion or frustration with the union. But these instances will never change the fact that I am a proud supporter of the teacher's union.

In a bizarre era where policy experts are calling attention to the need to attract better teachers while policy makers simultaneously decry our "lavish" benefits, the need for a strong union becomes increasingly well. The blatant attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere do nothing to improve education. During such a time, I am grateful for the hard fought union battles of the past that protect me from discrimination, support my instruction and planning, and encourage my professional development.

When I think of one of the most vital roles of the union however, I think of the protections that allow me to advocate for my students. At a school with more than 33% of students under IEP's and an even larger number receiving ESL services, I understand how crucial it is that I can speak up for these students if they aren't getting legally mandated services. This is arguably the foremost job of a teacher, to speak up for his or her students. By protecting teachers who do this, the union is protecting the city's neediest children. The union is at its best when it is in this role.

I know I don't see eye to eye with the UFT on every issue. I don't agree with LIFO. I think in the past tenure has been granted too swiftly and easily. In other areas, like the need for a stronger evaluation system, I hope the union will take more of a leadership role to create a system that differentiates more clearly between our best and worst teachers, and provides feedback to help the latter group change their practice.

I think these changes will elevate the status of teachers, but also create better classrooms for our students. I know the union has an indispensable role in the future of education reform. In the mean time, I am grateful for the freedoms the union provides me that make me a better teacher to my students. I'm equally thankful to be a part of a group that welcomes discussion within its ranks. The debates within our group can only make us stronger.

Comments

Kimberly said…
Although teacher unions aren't perfect, I know that if it hadn't been for them, I would've received an unsatisfactory year-end evaluation from one of my former principals that I did not deserve.
I've also taught in states where there are no teacher unions ("right to work" states). These states had "teacher organizations" that called themselves unions, but the difference between them and "real" unions is that they didn't have collective bargaining rights (which I painfully had to explain to my colleagues at the time). While I'm sure that unions also serve the purpose that you stated (the protection of your students), my experience with unions for myself as well as others, has been as advocates for teachers. I thought that 504s, Title I, Title IX, etc. education policies, for the most part, ensured that special needs, ESL, etc. students received the services they needed without too much resistance.
jonathan said…
It was disingenuous for you to participate. I wish you did support unions, and including ours.

But to use the question "Why do teachers like me support unions?" to instead attack unions...

Jonathan jd2718
ruben_b said…
Kimberly,

Those laws are in place, but there's little oversight. In my experience, principals will often use ESL and SETS providers as subs and in a variety of other roles, other than providing their mandated services.

Jonathan,

Your reaction is really disappointing. There's no room for disagreement within the union? I don't see any attacks on the union in my writing.

Your argument seems analogous to people who promote a "Love it or leave it" attitude about patriotism. I think America is far from perfect, but I still consider myself a patriot. I think that it's important to speak out when I disagree. I don't see why this can't be true of the UFT. As I tried to make clear, I believe the union has a vital role to play in protecting the rights of teachers. Am I required however, to think the UFT is a perfect body? How come the people on the other side of the debate who complain the UFT has "sold out" are still welcomed to express solidarity?

I understand the importance of seniority to UFT members, but is it the only issue that matters to members? That sort of litmus test seems unreasonable and shortsighted. For me due process and other rights are more important.
jonathan said…
Who is talking about "room for disagreement"? I object to how you used a union solidarity event that I helped organize.

When Steve asked “Well, why are you involved with the union if you’re a good teacher?” - you knew that question was not being asked of you. You crashed the event, with what most of us perceived as a hostile message.

Further, Your mention of union protections rings hollow. Protection from arbitrary discipline, arbitrary dismissal - your advocacy seeks to weaken those protections.

I do expect disagreement within the union, even sharp disagreement. But that is quite different from the path you have chosen. Your disagreement is entirely external to the union, expressed through the NY Post and Gotham Schools, and funded by those who seek to destroy us.

Jonathan jd2718
Bronx Teacher said…
I do wonder if this comment will see the light of day on this blog , but I am dying to know this.

Since you, Ruben, are such a great supporter of the UFT, can we know expect to see you at rallies?

A second question. Yes, there is no issue with you disagreeing with the UFT, why did you not align yourself with ICE, or even GEM?
ruben_b said…
Jonathan,

Sorry for the delayed response. For some reason your comment went to spam, maybe because it included a link. Jonathan, your objections are understandable, but unfair. You created a public meme for teachers to voice their support for the unions. I did exactly that. Just yesterday, a friend of mine who lives in Philadelphia and works in law, essentially asked the same question your meme seeks to answer. And I gave him much of the same answers I gave in my post, but with some added examples as well. Furthermore, I disagree that LIFO protects from arbitrary dismissal. The due process protections we have are separate from seniority, and conflating them as so many are doing isn't fair.

As for disagreeing through outside sources, I don't see any difference between writing a post on GothamSchools or an article in the NYPost and supporters of GEM taking their message to YouTube. And I don't those same dissenters would turn down an opportunity at an op-ed in the NY Times or any other major publication for that matter.

Bronx Teacher,

I've participated in several UFT functions through my school, but I doubt that matters much to you. As for aligning with ICE or GEM, I'm not sure how that would make sense. Simply because they are vocal dissenters? While there's a lot of common causes I could find with ICE or GEM I think it's fairly obvious our overall views are different.

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