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I admit that I sign up for education haters’ email lists, and one thing that seems to be trending is differentiating truths and myths. Most recently in the cross hairs are teachers’ unions. It’s time you heard from someone in the field about some honest truths.
Myth 1: Teachers are forced to join unions
Fact: Teachers can make the choice to join their union or not. I recently heard a State Senator in Pennsylvania debate me the validity of this myth. Certainly, some states and districts have non-union members pay a Fair Share fee, meaning even non-union members pay a fee for the services they receive from the union (representation, negotiations, and job security – just to name a few), but nobody is “forced” to join the union.
Myth 2: Unions are hierarchical
Fact: Unions are grassroots! There are national and state components of education associations, but they’ve been created because teachers are so busy doing what they do best – teaching. Teachers are, and always will be, the backbone of the association. In fact, the union is the largest democracy in America, whereby teachers elect their local’s executive officers who, in turn, elect the state and national ones.
Myth 3: Unions are purely political
Fact: Teaching, itself, has been and continues to be a lightning rod for politics. When public education began in this nation, community members had high – and often unfair – expectations of their teachers. They were to be young, single women who were expected to work with all levels of students in different grades in all the major subjects. Since then, we’ve transformed our educational system into a much more specialized, knowledge-based, student-centered place for children.
Myth 3: Unions are Democratic
Fact: That’s with a capital “D.” The assumption is that unions cater to the Democratic Party, and vice versa. While the tendency of the union and its members seem to lean that way, it is by no means a rock-hard truth. In fact, union members come from all walks of political thought. Our unions support the best candidate supporting public education, regardless of the party. Many times more than publicized, those candidates are Republicans, independents, and even third party members.
Myth 4: Unions only defend bad teachers
Fact: Unions defend the due process rights of all teachers equally. There are bad teachers, just like there are bad bankers and bad grocery store managers. A union, however, seeks to help all employees grow in their abilities and performances for the best interests of the employee and the employer.
Myth 5: Union members cannot be fired
Fact: In far too many professions, employees are able to be fired or “let go” on just about any contingency. Unions of all shapes and sizes ensure that employees’ rights are in solidly place. They are given assistance to improve, and when that is unable to correct the performance, it is up to the administration.
Myth 6: Unions are ready to strike at any time
Fact: The discussion and vote to strike is an incredibly difficult one. Strikes do not occur often because teachers do not want to disturb the educational process for students. However, sometimes policy makers and school boards put teachers in such a dire circumstances that their only tool is a strike.
Myth 7: Unions just want to spend our money
Fact: Teachers just want to receive their fair share of compensation. The national teacher’s salary is in the $50,000 ball park. While that is more than the average American, it is enough to permit a teacher solely providing for his/her family to qualify for Section VIII housing and free/reduced lunch. Teachers in non-union states earn far less; in North Carolina, an almost non-union state, teachers need to be employed for nearly 20 years before they can earn $50,000. They are the 47th best paid state for teachers, and the 47th best performing state for students.
Myth 8: Unions and their members are opposed to reform
Fact: Teachers and unions are in favor of positive ways to change the face of education. However, with so many outside groups and ideas being added to our profession, constant reform and constant change often prove to be a larger detriment than the status quo. If teachers were more consulted in reform and change didn’t seem to happen every school year, we would support positive movements in education. The sad fact is that this doesn’t happen too often.
Myth 9: Unions are anti-student
Fact: Research has continually shown that the most effective component of student success is a quality teacher. How much more pro-student can we become than ensuring that each student has a happy, qualified teacher at the front of every classroom?
Myth 10: Unions are ruining education
Fact: States, districts, and schools with a strong union culture have a strong component of collaboration. In fact, the states that perform the best in the U.S. are strong union states. The same can be said about most schools. Likewise, while the focus seems to continue to be on “defending the taxpayer,” unions are often times the only organization left defending the best interests of students and teachers.