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Before I entered education 11 years ago I never thought I’d be in a union. I believed unions were only necessary in the movies or years ago when bosses wanted workers to work in factories for 12 hours a day for pennies on the hour. So when I signed my teacher paperwork I was hesitant to sign up for the union, Memphis Educators Association.  The fee was $28 per pay period, but just when I was about to mark “no” a voice inside me told me to give it a try and if necessary, I could always cancel it.

As I started in my first school I was sure that I would see my union participating in protests, plotting against our principal and occasionally partaking in other ‘political’ agendas. I was wrong. Our union representative was a teacher who did much more then I ever thought a union rep would have to do.  She counseled teachers, encouraged collaboration and even worked hand in hand with our school administrators. While my experience with a union has been nothing but positive,  however when I relocated to a “right to work” state I now understand how misunderstood teacher unions are to the general public.



1. Unions protect bad teachers. This is the number one complaint I hear from union busters.  In reality, unions don’t protect bad teachers, incompetent administrators who do by not properly documenting  the teacher’s ineffectiveness are the real culprits.  Instead I witnessed my union representative  attempting to help weaker teachers perfect their crafts. The union offered classes at their headquarters to help teachers become better at their craft. Many teachers got better in the classroom, while the ones who struggled stayed in the classroom because administrators did not complete the required paperwork to remove those teachers.

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For fifteen years Franchesca taught English/Language Arts in two urban districts in Atlanta, Georgia,...

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  1. This is not my experience. Not only do unions not protect teachers, they do nothing but work with the state to relieve teachers of their rights. Unions collect your money and then spend it to support political candidates. As for support of teachers, “there is nothing we can do” is the only answer anyone I know has gotten. Spare me the waste of money!

    1. Are you a member of your union or are you actively involved in your union? Unless you are an active participant in your union then you have no idea what they do.

    2. I have to respectfully disagree with the response from “d”. Teachers pay dues to unions and get information about what they provide. I have been a Union rep. and I DO KNOW what they do. However, when it comes to supporting a teacher who has been harassed, bullied and tormented illegally by an administrator, Unions fall short, VERY SHORT!!!!! Teachers believe they will be supported by the union if a situation develops that requires them to step in and help. Please read the book titled, White Collar Chalk Crime” by Karen Horwitz and then YOU will REALLY know what UNIONS DO and what they DON’T do!

  2. This is an excellent article. Of course no organization is perfect and unions are different between districts, states, and regions of the country. But they are nowadays more crucial than ever when state governments are slashing budgets and education faces the biggest cuts. Unions across the country have helped to save valuable programs for our kids. In Northeast Ohio, where I live, Strongsville city teachers are in the midst of a strike. They have taken their fair share of pay freezes and benefits cuts, just like everyone else has. But they are striking now to preserve as much of the integrity of their schools and programs. Most politicians will just crunch the numbers; teachers are fighting for the future of their kids and their communities.

  3. It sounds as if you are part of a very weak union, or have a union run by someone not really qualified to be in charge.

  4. I felt this article was right on! But there really is a weakness about the NATIONAL level of unions in that they don’t seem to be effective against publishers’ lobbies and politicians who want to remove funding from public schools by using teachers as scapegoats. Local support is varied depending on the dedication of the local and regional reps. I mainly joined NEA for the malpractice insurance.

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