Most gas stations sell propane. But they usually keep the propane tank as far as possible from the main building. To me, that says something. It says, “Even though our entire operation consists of simultaneously selling gasoline, cigarettes and Bic lighters to anyone with a car; that propane tank scares the hell out of us, and we don’t want to be anywhere near it.”
That weird mix of trust and suspicion also seems to apply to teachers and their unions. According to a recent survey, three out of four Americans trust their children’s teachers, while only half believe that teachers unions have a positive effect on schools. That seems weird to me, since teachers union are – by definition – simply a group of teachers; the same teachers that people trust when they aren’t in a group. I understand what’s going on, of course; when teachers are working in their classrooms, they’re doing things for children: teaching them, keeping them safe, etc. But when teachers get together in a group – a union – they sometimes ask for things like fair compensation and job security, and that’s when the trust disappears. People don’t like it when teacher unions act like other unions. That’s when they accuse teachers of not acting in the best interests of the students.
There are two problems with that. First of all, unions are supposed to act on behalf of their members. That’s their essential purpose. They were invented in order to secure collective bargaining agreements with employers. They sit down across the table from administrators and bargain. And at some point in the conversation, the administration will insist on less money for more work and less job security. The union, on the other hand, will ask for higher wages in exchange for less work and more job security. That’s what every worker – with or without a union – is supposed to do in regards to their employment conditions. Teacher unions, as it turns out, have become pretty good at it, and people don’t like that.
But here’s the other thing: despite the fact that teacher unions act like unions because they’re supposed to, our unions actually do a lot more. I spent a couple days earlier this week in Denver, where this year’s NEA Representative Assembly is being held. Before the convention started, I attended an event called “Empowered Educators Day.” It was awesome. The entire day was focused on ways in which the NEA is working to improve teaching and learning. National Board Certification, of course, was a big part of the conversation. The National Board has had the support of the NEA and the AFT from the get-go, and it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the support of the teachers unions.
On this Fourth of July I’m holding my head high. I’m a proud member of a great union. A union that works hard for its members and works just as hard for our students.