Tim Farmer is a Teach for America alumnus and current Membership Director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators

I wholeheartedly support teachers’ right to agree with and join a union, should they choose. However, I equally support teachers’ right to disagree with the union and join a professional association.

As a former member of the National Education Association, I witnessed first-hand as union officials were always trying to get us teachers riled up, as though we were laborers, not professionals. The union didn’t provide us with sound information and foster healthy, intelligent conversations; it always seemed more like “Get in line, or get out of the way.”

It is this approach that leads to counter-productive entrenchment, instead of cooperation towards what should be the goal: Improving student achievement.

I was ecstatic to learn that there is a growing movement amongst educators toward a more professional approach. Association of American Educators (AAE) nationally and Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE) here in Colorado are leading the way by providing teachers with a choice of professional organization. AAE and PACE are non-union and focus on elevating the profession of teaching and improving public education for every student.

I think it is so vital that more teachers learn about this movement that I have stepped out of the classroom to begin working for PACE full-time. Too many teachers, like me, only joined the unions because of our desire for liability insurance should any unfortunate incidents arise in our classroom. AAE and PACE provide this peace of mind to teachers to the tune of $2,000,000 in liability insurance, as well as coverage of legal fees for a host of situations that a teacher might encounter.

AAE and PACE do not engage in partisan politics and do not spend money on political candidates, endorsements, or issues. This leads to more affordable dues; only $15 a month. When I was an NEA member I was paying close to $60 a month, and now know that a lot of that money was being spent on politics and issues unrelated to education.

Additionally AAE and PACE provide quality information about education policy to teachers. All members, not just a select few, are given a chance to voice their opinion and the organization then advocates accordingly.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently, “Teaching must be one of our nation’s most honorable professions… But it will require dramatic changes in the way we recruit, train, support, evaluate and compensate teachers…We should also be asking how the teaching profession might change if salaries started at $60,000 and rose to $150,000.”

While the union often balks at what Duncan is trying to do, AAE and PACE agree with him. Despite the billions of dollars the unions have spent building up unprecedented political power, and oftentimes hand-picking school board members, they have failed miserably in making teaching a well-paid and respected profession. If we truly want teaching to be a profession like medicine, law and engineering then teachers need professional associations that represent them like those academic professions.

Joel Klein noted the importance of this in a recent Wall Street Journal book review of Stephen Brill’s “Class Warfare.” Klein states, “Meanwhile, the reformers need to enlist the support of a new generation of educators, as Mr. Brill argues, by persuading them that teaching is less a trade-union job than a true profession, deserving better compensation and greater status but also delivering a higher level of classroom competence.”

AAE and PACE support this shift toward being true professional educators and away from being a trade-union job. We support higher pay for teachers, but also higher accountability for everyone in the school system, including administrators and district level staff.

In this same article Mr. Klein reviews Terry Moe’s book “Special Interest,” and aptly points out the need for professional associations when he writes, “Many reformers, especially Democrats, want to believe that the teachers unions will change significantly so that powerful unions and meaningful reform can co-exist. Mr. Moe compellingly argues that the underlying dynamics—reinforced by a long history of lots of talk and little change—make this belief naïve.”

Union reform has been tried in the past. Klein outlines his attempts to work with the union in New York City, but the union consistently demonstrated that it is not interested in making teaching the respected profession with six-figure salaries that it should be.

Teachers should be allowed to choose a union or a professional association. However, I believe it is time teachers follow the lead of other academic professions and revolutionize their own future by joining the movement with AAE and PACE to elevate the profession of teaching and improve public education for every student.

I encourage you to learn more at www.coloradoteachers.org