Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why You Should Support Your Teacher Union

Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville)
This week, a forum was held in Louisville. A man named David Williams, a Republican state senator from Burkesville, went on the record blaming our union for holding back progress in education at this forum. The president of our union, Brent McKim, sat a couple dozen feet from this man as he slammed our union. As McKim said, it certainly appeared that he was taking a stand against our union rather than running for office. Williams lambasted the union, claiming that JCTA - Jefferson County Teachers Association is in charge of the school board. In Williams' words "The school board here is owned and run by the Jefferson County Teachers Association."

Williams is far from the only person who has slammed unions for being a very big reason for education failure. In the propaganda film, Waiting for Superman, which at times appears to be little more than a hate film aimed at average teachers, public schools and teacher unions, unions are also blamed for standing in the way of student success. It appears that some people find the fact that unions have the teachers' best interests at heart a bad thing. Want to know what my best interests are? Being the best teacher I can be for my students. My union helps me do that.

There was a time in the past when teaching was a largely woman filled profession. Even today, if I say teacher, most average Americans probably picture a female filling that role. Despite being mostly women, administration was mostly ruled by men. Teachers could face job termination for things as simple as having a family. Teachers joined together and created unions to protect themselves from wrongful termination and unfounded accusations by students. There are bad teachers in this world, but unions exist to keep jobs for good teachers.

Charter schools are free from union control. At some charter schools teachers are expected to work upwards of 12 hour days, receive less money and benefits and have been terminated following or during maternity leave. This is one of the things that is pushed under the rug, however a teacher friend of mine in another state who teaches at a charter school and is currently pregnant is scared of losing her job as half a dozen other pregnant women before her have. Teachers are meant to be people, too, and part of being people means the choice to reproduce when you want and not face termination.

Unions also help students. How? Because it's my union that keeps my class size small. One of the accusations in Waiting for Superman involves a parent who experienced a classroom with forty students in it. That won't happen when a union is present and active. My cap is thirty one and I won't take one student over that. Aside from the fact that it's more work for me to grade, it's unfair to students. The reason why teachers complain about class size has nothing to do with our work load. It's easier for quiet or confused students to fall through the cracks when your room is overloaded.

My union also protects me from the expectation that I should have ridiculous work hours as some charter schools require of teachers. There's absolutely no need to spend upwards of 12 hours in a school and it is detrimental to schools to require this of teachers. I'm a human. I need food, sleep and social interaction. Without these things, I become less human and more likely to burn out. If I put in that much work, I'd run out of ways to keep my students happy and learning and would probably become to depressed enough to take it out on my students.

Back to the original anti-union person of this entry. What is the basis of Williams' claim? Moreover, what's wrong with it? Yes, the union in my district is active. Yes, I do receive information regarding who the union supports for office. However, I'm still human and can make my own decisions. I do not blindly follow what my union says and does. I think for myself and don't always agree with our union. That's the beauty of democracy. Even still, what is wrong with teachers being the ones who vote the school board into office? We're the ones working for them. We also make up a huge portion of the voting populace in our district. You could claim teachers voted in the mayor or any other office because we come out and vote. A lot of voting booths are staffed by JCTA volunteers. Is there something wrong with being active politically? Perhaps Williams doesn't realize the damage he has done to his own campaign. JCTA is active, yes, but we aren't the only teachers in the state. When you slam teachers and their representatives, you alienate a lot of voters. Several of my cousins are teachers in other counties and wish they had an active union like JCTA. How are they going to feel when this man, who is running for governor of the state, decides to paint what they want in a negative light?

I'm sorry, Mr. Williams. I had no idea who you were before this quote, but now I know I will never vote for you. I'm sure countless other teachers feel the same. If you wish to run for office, it might be best to stick to the issues rather than running against an organization that benefits a huge portion of the people you wish to represent.

But what do I know? I'm just in the classroom all day, every day of the week making sure my students learn and thanking my lucky stars that my union is here to protect me. I won't even touch his argument that diversity can still be achieved in neighborhood schools. Suffice to say, there's very little that this man knows about schools in Jefferson County.


  1. I wish people would realize just how crucial class size is to effective education. My co-teacher in Taiwan was a brilliant, dedicated, passionate teacher, but you know what? When you teach six sections of sixth grade English and you have 37 students per class, you're not going to know everyone. Kids are going to go unnoticed. Issues won't emerge until the final exam, when it's too late to do anything about it. We knew who the high achievers were, and we knew who genuinely struggled, but the kids in the middle who could easily have gotten stronger at English with some closer attention got lost simply because we had no idea who they were. The differences between that scenario and my six person senior English class could not be greater, and it impacts kids in more ways than one. Try having a teacher who barely knows you write a really strong recommendation letter for your college applications - it shows, in spades.

  2. You are right! I love this one! In regards to JCTA "owning the school board," well, if that was true then why have many of them gotten on the charter school bandwagon and been promoting teacher merit pay? Isn't that one of the things in SB3, the bill that Williams is sponsoring? Doesn't make sense, does it, but not much that Williams does ever makes sense...he's all about running a campaign right now, not helping schools, not even the ones in his own district. By slamming Jefferson County, he is actually continuing the trend in Kentucky of us (being other counties) versus them (being Jefferson County). He uses the theme of divide & conquer to keep people voting for him.


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