Sunday, August 10, 2014

Considering What the Union Does for Students and Teachers #IdahoEdAssoc #NEAMedia

And what have our unions done? What do they aim to do? To improve the standard of life, to uproot ignorance and foster education, to instill character, manhood and independent spirti among our people; to bring about a recognition of the interdependence of man upon his fellow man. We aim to establish a normal work-day, to take the children from the factory and workshop and give them the opportunity of the school and the play-ground. In a word, our unions strive to lighten toil, educate their members, make their homes more cheerful, and in every way contribute an earnest effort toward making life the better worth living. --Samuel Gompers

I learned about Samuel Gompers when I was in eighth grade, and the lesson of his struggle to organize and represent the working class has stuck with me. I vowed that if given the chance, I'd join the union, too.

In college (Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri) my education classes extolled the virtues of membership in professional organizations, including the union.

Joining the NEA (National Education Association) when I signed my first teaching contract was a no-brainer. I've remained a union member throughout my career, sans one year. That was a mistake.

Being a member of the NEA, and by extension my state and local association, makes me a better teacher.

Let me say that again:

I am a better teacher because I belong to the union.

This past week I attended the second annual IEA (Idaho Education Association) Conference at the Boise Center in Boise, Idaho.

I walked away from the conference in awe of our state president, Penni Cyr, who is a National Board Certified Teacher and who will begin her fourth year as our state president this school year.

Simply, the IEA conference was every bit as impressive as national conferences I've attended, and attending the IEA conference was completely free. No conference fee. No hotel charge. No transportation fee. We were provided breakfast and lunch each day of the conference, and it was free, too. Additionally, we were offered credit through Northwest Nazarene College. 

And the conference is open to all IEA members! 

IEA used Event Brite for scheduling. Here are two screenshots of my schedule: 


Without question, the most valuable session addressed the Danielson Framework of Evaluation model (adopted by the state) and how teachers can document their practice for use during their evaluations. The focus was on reflective practice and being active listeners during evaluations. 

In this session, we were given a flash drive filled with resources that will assist us in creating a portfolio of our work with students. In turn, this living document will serve as a conversation starter with admins and as a way to address any potential areas for remediation. As a blogger and as a NBCT, I've been a proponent of reflective practice for a long time and believe my association's pro-active position will work to improve teaching in our state. Our presenter offered a shout-out to the New Jersey and Utah teachers' unions for sharing their model with Idaho. 

In one session we were asked if the union is too political. This led to an interesting discussion of the differences between being political and partisan. Simply, teachers need the union for political activism. Our association is our voice. Imagine what chaos would rein if teachers had to advocate for our profession as individuals rather than as members of an organization. More importantly, I began to think about how I can be a better listener to those not traditionally allies of teachers in the state house. 

The past two weeks have been filled with rhetoric vilifying teachers. In her pursuit to destroy teachers' due process and to castigate the two teachers' unions as organizations bent on hurting children, Campbell Brown now defines a bad teacher as one who does not use personal funds to purchase the supplies needed to do the job. In "A Strange Definition of a Bad Teacher" Valerie Strauss challenges the premise that teachers should be fired for not buying students' supplies. 

I mention this story in The Washington Post because it illustrates why unions are so important to both teachers and students. The parent sees no problem with a teacher buying supplies for students rather than the school providing them. Even more shocking, he doesn't consider buying the supplies himself. He expects the teacher to do so. 

We hover around 54% membership in our local in my district. If we fall below 51%, we will lose our right to negotiate salaries and learning conditions (aka working conditions). In a school, working conditions are learning conditions. They impact everything from class size and preparation time, to the number of counselors and special services in schools. 

As the start of another school year approaches, I'm thinking about a question often posed among non-union teachers is my right-to-work state:

What has the union done for teachers?

In Idaho both our state association and national union has done a great deal for both teachers and students. The most important thing the NEA has done in Idaho is to defeat the Luna laws via a referendum. When the public learns both sides of an issue, when they learned how harmful these laws would have been to students, they sided with teachers. They sided with the union. 

Without our union, there would be no Children's Fund from which to purchase eyeglasses and other things for needy students. 

The union advocates on behalf of students to end bullying and discrimination 

The union instructs teachers in effective communication with parents. 

The union studies standardized testing to fight for best practices in summative assessments and in the use and interpretation of testing data. 

The union is fighting to create solutions for college students burdened with piles of debt. 

The union supports early childhood education and age-appropriate CCSS instruction and implementation.

The union offers resources for classroom management, classroom decor, lesson planning, etc. 

The union works to create safe learning spaces for students and teachers.

My union is so much more that a one-dimensional organization Campbell Brown, Michelle Rhee, and others paint it as. Even Bill Gates recognizes the vital importance of the NEA through his funding of Better Lesson, the company NEA is partnered with in the Master Teacher Project. 

The NEA is education. 

We're living in hard times. It's time the ignorati get schooled. 

*I decided to change the title of this post a couple of hours after posting it. 10:14 MST