Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What About Teachers Unions?

Nancy at Teacher in a Strange Land has a 20 Questions For Eductators post, and one of the questions is What about unions?

What about unions? Essential but usually unimaginative. To have such power and resources, then regularly squander them on petty, predictable scripts. I see hopeful glimmers that Next Gen teachers will change that.

I wouldn't call them essential; perhaps "sometimes useful" would be more accurate. Of course, that utility declines the further you get from the individual member (e.g., the state and national unions). With the exception of that one word, though, her answer is a welcome one.


mazenko said...

I concur with more Nancy on the "essential" - collective bargaining is nearly an imperative in a large system like education. Either that, or you've never encountered any incompetency at the administrative level. However, you and she are both right in the problems of unions stepping way beyond the initial mandate.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Hey, Darren. Thanks for the mention. I've seen 20Q in a number of blogs and dozens of Facebook pages. And any time teachers think and write about macro and micro ed issues, it's a good thing.

Re: the unions. My own union story is not pretty (and usually requires an adult beverage in the re-telling). Unions need to re-think their reasons for existence and re-align their work. But they are part of the landscape, and a powerful force--sometimes for the good. If the goal is weakening and extinguishing the unions, what we're left with is what they have in right-to-work states where turnover is exacerbated, 85% of the teaching force is female, and the teacher perspective is lost in policy creation.

Mamacita (Mamacita) said...

The teachers' union did nothing for me except make everything worse. I despise it, and I tell every young teacher I meet not to waste his/her money on it.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Well, hey, Mamacita. Nice to run into you...

The thing is--in strong-union, collective-bargaining, agency-shop states your basic dues are collected whether you like it or not. And publicly positioning yourself as opposed to the local union is likely to mean that you have to each lunch all by yourself. In many locals, even states, the union controls the conversation. So you either become an internal, alternative voice--or you voluntarily marginalize your influence with your colleagues.

And if you think that's overstating the case, you never taught in a state or district like mine. I chose to be the internal, alternative voice. I went to meetings and said things that made "the leadership" anxious. But I was a player. And occasionally, I changed people's minds (as they did mine).

Lots of people, in answering the 20Q, said they joined the union for the insurance protection. When you live in a mandated-membership state, you don't "join" the union. You are the union.