I have read many of the posts by teaching colleagues across the country for EDUSolidarity day. I was inspired to jot down my opinion. This is not a diatribe against the pessimists, but a honest reflection of my life as a teacher and the role that the union plays.
My last graduate class was about management. The point was made that it does not matter if you are working at a private company or in a school district or the military. The biggest cost is always the people. At our district’s last board meeting they broke down the current budget and next year’s proposed budget by looking at the percentages of money dedicated to the teachers, aids, secretaries, custodians, and everyone else who makes the school run. It was inspiring, enlightening, and telling.
The money issue brings the importance of a union into the picture. If people are the largest percentage of the budget, they are going to be the biggest target for cuts. Currently the district is surviving on a pseudo-hiring freeze. Having a few less teachers increases class size slightly, but does it hurt the students’ education? Who judges this? If the hiring freeze is not enough, who or what is in danger of being placed on the chopping block? What technology is necessary and what is expendable? What academic courses are necessary and which are more flexible? As a teacher of an encore class, the pressure for change is a never ending tide. There is concern that the moon will get the last laugh and encore classes will be replaced (or at least completely overshadowed) by the courses that are tested with standardized tests or graduation exams. This is why I support a union. The union can see beyond this year’s budget woes. They understand the demands placed on the school board for a balanced budget, but are not driven solely by the numbers. The union is also not biased by standardized tests because they represent all teachers, across the subjects, not just teachers who are graded like their students on the standardized tests.
I respect the school board and superintendent, but sometimes they do not have a clear picture of what really happens in the classroom and beyond. With technology, my day does not really end at 3. On a regular basis students are posting questions to the blog or emailing me at home, hoping to get answers before the next day. Developing digital content is not a quick solution, but for the most part, it is engaging and a worthwhile investment of my time. The desire to stay current on technology and learn more means I do not really have summers off. The union is formed by teachers who actually understand what the life of a teacher feels like today. We have made the decision together to teach, to dedicate our life to teaching the next generation. Traditionally the people sitting in our classes were the harshest critics who found fault (mostly a procrastination from having to learn, and yes I am guilty of this as a student). This has shifted. Now everyone is a critic. I would challenge anyone who thinks teacher’s have it easy to try it. They will probably be inconveniently surprised.