This post is one of many published as part of the #EDUSolidarity project.
There are plenty of times when I disagree with Michael Mulgrew and the UFT. There have been more than a few occasions in conversations about teaching when I’ve had to admit my own confusion or frustration with the union. But these instances will never change the fact that I am a proud supporter of the teachers union.
In a bizarre era where policy experts are calling attention to the need to attract better teachers while policy makers simultaneously decry our “lavish” benefits, the need for a strong union becomes increasingly acute. The blatant attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere do nothing to improve education. During such a time, I am grateful for the hard-fought union battles of the past that protect me from discrimination, support my instruction and planning, and encourage my professional development.
When I think of one of the most vital roles of the union however, I think of the protections that allow me to advocate for my students. At a school with more than 33 percent of students requiring special education services and an even larger number who are considered English language learners, I understand how crucial it is that I can speak up for these students if they aren’t getting legally mandated services. This is arguably the foremost job of a teacher, to speak up for his or her students. By protecting teachers who do this, the union is protecting the city’s neediest children. The union is at its best when it is in this role.
I know I don’t see eye to eye with the UFT on every issue. I don’t agree with LIFO. I think in the past tenure has been granted too swiftly and easily. In other areas, like the need for a stronger evaluation system, I hope the union will take more of a leadership role to create a system that differentiates more clearly between our best and worst teachers and provides feedback to help the latter group change their practice.
I think these changes will elevate the status of teachers, but also create better classrooms for our students. I know the union has an indispensable role in the future of education reform. In the meantime, I am grateful for the freedoms the union provides me that make me a better teacher to my students. I’m equally thankful to be a part of a group that welcomes discussion within its ranks. The debates within our group can only make us stronger.