The Blog

In Defense of Teachers Unions

Unions remind us that those who are recent to the struggle of educating a nation may have some good ideas, but that they must work in concert with the teachers -- not against us.
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Are unions perfect? No. Ask anyone involved with one.

But it comes down to this: Do you believe that people have the right to a say in their own workplace?

If so, do you believe that their voice will be stronger collectively or alone?

If you believe that teachers have more ability to have a say in their schools collectively, then you believe in unions. Whatever frustrations, whatever issues, whatever problems you have with the manner in which a specific union may or may not have be it. You believe in unions.

We should have a great debate in this country about what teaching and learning looks like. Part of that debate should be about what role the teacher assumes and how that life is sustainable, livable and just. The teachers unions will be at the table for that conversation. They should be; they need to be.

In our schools, it is very easy to run roughshod over the rights of adults. "It's for the children... you're for the children, aren't you?" It's an easy sell, and it tugs at the heartstrings of all -- but the most hardened of hearts. It's too often a cheap line, and too many people have used it to push teachers too far, burn them out, abuse their compassion and care.

Teachers unions make sure that individual teachers don't have to do that every day. They remind administrators that there are limits, and that for teachers do be able to do this job, day in and day out, year after year, they need to be taken care of as well.

They remind politicians, as unions always have, that a fair day's work is worth a fair day's wage. And that contracts are not just platitudes, but binding documents.

And they remind all of us that those on the front line of the teaching profession have a right to a say in their working life; that teacher voice is an important -- in fact essential -- piece of how we will make our schools better and more humane for students, teachers and even (heaven forbid) principals.

Teachers' unions remind us that when you say, "We love teachers...the good ones..." you demean the profession, and you demean the hard work that millions of teachers do across America every day.

Unions remind us that those who are recent to the struggle of educating a nation may have some good ideas, but that they must work in concert with the teachers, not against us. Because in the end, they are our schools as much as they are our children's schools. Our work, our passion, our energy, our lives are in the classroom walls. And we have every bit as much of a right to a say in how our schools will evolve as those who would take our voice from us.

Because unions fundamentally fight for teachers' rights to have a say in what a democratic education in America looks like, I stand with teachers' unions.

[This post is part of the #EduSolidarity postings, started by Stephen Lazar and supported by an incredible group of teachers.]