Monday, March 21, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

"Hey Jason, you must be pretty interested in what's happening in Wisconsin."

"Yeah of course."

"Good that people are finally standing up to the unions."

"Yeah, it's......Wait......what?"

"The unions. You always seem pretty anti-union."

"Why's that?"

"Well you're always complaining about how they're getting in your way."


I can't deny that last statement. I do. I complain about my union regularly. I've fought with them, actively or passively, numerous times over my career.

But I support unions and I especially support my own union. As soon as I saw Stephen's post about edusolidarity I knew I'd do it.

I have this go-to phrase. I use it all the time when I'm making a decision. In fact, it overrides most other considerations.

"It'll help our students."

When I hear it, I can't say no.

Three years ago, we never filled an SDC class position. Instead of hiring a substitute, I agreed to roll the SDC class into my newcomers (non-English speakers) class. I did it because I thought it would help our students.

Last year, we had an open position in science. I alternated teaching every single section of science through the week while also creating lessons for the rotating subs. I was responsible for more than 300 students for a few months. I did it because I thought it would help our students.

This year, we had two hours a week added to our schedule. No warning. No increase in pay or other types of compensation. I went along with it. I did it because I thought it would help our students.

And this is where my union and I fight. We disagree because I am only thinking about my students. The union? The union is thinking about me. They're protecting me from me. I won't can't say no. I keep pushing and pushing. My union pushes back. They tell me that the district could fill that open spot. We shouldn't have our schedule arbitrarily lengthened without something in return. They tell me to hold firm and the school will do what needs to be done.

So we fight. And I complain.

And my friends and family only hear the "unions are bad" narrative.

But without my union I would not be here. Without my union I would have burned out long ago. I see 150 kids without a teacher and I don't think, I just act.  The union kept pressure on, and the next year, we found an SDC teacher. The union didn't let my school forget about the open science position and so we had a new teacher by January. The union helped us get some of that added time back for staff collaboration.

My union thinks about me so I can think about my kids. I support my union because I can't support myself.



  1. Well done, Jason - a unique perspective, quick read, and to the point!

  2. "Protecting me from me" brought me right to tears. We have so many of us going beyond reasonable expectations, that it is easy to fall into that same trap over and over.

    Thank you for sharing. :)

  3. This blog is by far the one that would speak to my colleagues more than any other. For years we have done more and more all because we are doing it "for the children." Yet even as teachers have dedicated one hundred percent of themselves and then some "to the children," they are still disrespected, taken advantage of, under-compensated, and over-worked. I have the utmost respect for your sincere dedication to your profession, and you sound like the perfect example of one of the elusive "good" teachers that most of the "reformers" seem to claim don't exist anymore due to the unions. However, I agree with you that teachers need to start being able to just say no or our profession is most likely doomed. Thank you for such a great blog!

  4. This was my favorite of all the support posts I read today. You put into words something I struggled to explain when I was teaching in public school and belonged to the teacher's union. Now that I don't have that group to say no for me, I find that I do more than I should be. Thanks for writing this.

  5. Thank you for this Jason!!
    This will resonate with some people I know.

  6. This is great, Jason. I appreciate the very different perspective. More young teachers need the meta-cognition to be aware of this dynamic. Without unions, people like you and I would would never stop taking on more and more, and we would burn ourselves out eventually.

  7. Hear! Hear! ... this is why I am in my union ... because I want to focus on my 'kids' and trying to do the best for them and, as you point out so well, sometimes that means I am not doing the best for me ... that's the union's job - to do what's best for its members (*u*)

  8. A beautiful beautiful post! I've said similar things about my own union, but now I realize how much they work for me when I don't advocate for myself. And this year, they were there for me when no one else was.