Friday, April 9, 2021

Why Start a Union?

 April 9, 2021

A couple of days ago, I was accused-not for the first time this school year- of being selfish and of not caring for the students I teach.  It's a hurtful accusation, and couldn't be further from the truth.  Anyone who knows me knows I love my kids, and I love my job and my school dearly.  I want to see my students grow and thrive.  I worry about them when I know they are struggling.  And we've all been struggling this year.  It's been a tough one.  I have spent hundreds of hours transferring lessons and activities into digital files, planning and creating new content to address the very real social and emotional struggles my students have been dealing with this year, learning new digital platforms, zooming during class hours and during tutoring and parent meetings, grading online until my eyes burned, and answering emails at all hours of the day and night.  I am exhausted, and have much worse vision than I did at the start of this pandemic.  Why?  Because I do care about them-- and I want them to know it, without a doubt.

So why have I been accused of not caring about my students?  Well, as best as I can tell, the reason is two-fold.  The first is that last summer and fall, as the pandemic was growing out of control and there was no vaccine in sight, I advocated for following CDC, state, and local guidelines for the shutdown of schools.  (Shutdown of schools, by the way, is a misnomer; the buildings were closed, but the business of school was very much alive and well in our district.)  As a cancer survivor and the sole caretaker of my 92-year-old grandmother, I didn't think it unreasonable that I should be able to take all the safety precautions recommended by doctors and scientists.  The second reason for the accusation is my involvement with and support for a teachers' union in our district.  The perception of some is that if I am advocating for a union, it is because I am only interested in putting my own needs in front of those of my students.  However, the needs of students and the needs of teachers are not mutually exclusive; they are both important factors that foster an effective and robust learning environment.

I have been a high school teacher in my district for 30 years.  The primary purpose of our vocation is to model and foster critical thinking skills.  I want my students to be critical consumers of information in all its forms in order to better inform themselves, solidify their own understanding of the values in which they believe, and situate themselves in positions to not only be self-advocates, but to be advocates for others who might not have a voice in the conversation.  How strange, then, to think that there are those who feel putting myself and fellow educators in positions to have a voice is somehow considered selfish.

Our district prides itself on promoting a growth mindset and celebrates a life-long learner.  As our district has continued to grow and evolve, our core values have remained constant, and that's important to me.  What has evolved, however, is the way in which we seek to achieve and maintain those core values.  As a life-long learner, I have continued to seek knowledge about both my profession and my district.  As someone who values a growth mindset,  I have seen a need for change in the conversations in our district.  We have a body that has been an informational conduit for teachers' voices, but is no longer able to be an effective part of the decision-making process.  I respect and appreciate the work that these teachers have done on behalf of the teachers they represent, but the time has come for teachers' voices to be part of the team of decision-makers, rather than a voice that is easily pushed aside when deemed inconsequential by those who actually make the decisions.  I don't advocate for this voice because I am angry or because I don't like the school or district in which I work.  I enjoy positive relationships with the administration at my site, as well as many educators in the upper administration in my district.  I don't seek a voice in order to be adversarial; I seek a voice through the union because by nature I am collaborative, and I feel the best way to make important decisions is by collaborating with everyone who should be part of the conversation--not just sometimes, and not just when it's easy--all the time.

Change is hard.  It can be scary, especially because there are a lot of unknowns.  If nothing else, this year of the pandemic has taught us that.  There are people who fear that an outside entity coming in (CTA) will make us change our values and abandon our dedication to the children of this district.  This union is US--teachers who work in our district, care about our students here in Clovis, know and love the values of this district.  We, the teachers and educators in our district, would be the ones making decisions about what priorities we want to advocate for to support our students and our educators.  There are some who think teachers will want to advocate for staying online. Now that the vaccine has become available and infection numbers are low, I can't imagine that most teachers in the district would want to advocate for that because we LOVE to see our kids in our classrooms, face-to-face.  It's why we went into the educational field; it's why we stay here.  I have many conservative friends who worry that their union dues will go to support political candidates or issues they don't support.  I absolutely respect that--I don't want my dollars going to support something in which I don't believe either.  You are able to opt out of those political contributions.  There are those who worry that a teachers' union seeks to be the ONLY voice in the conversation--at the expense of students, parents, and even administration.  We don't want to be THE voice; we want to be one of the voices.  

We are in the classroom, day after day, and can see firsthand how a particular program or curriculum might benefit our students.  We can see how much more often we can engage with and support our students in a classroom with a manageable number of students.  We can advocate for additional systems that can help support our students' academic growth and emotional well-being.  And yes, we can even advocate for a more comparable salary schedule to compete with similar or nearby districts. It's important to have people in the decision-making process who see the big picture--the needs of the district as a whole.  But having people who are in the individual classrooms working with our kids Monday-Friday also share what our kids need on the ground level is vitally important to continued growth and change in this district.  It's an important balance.

I know not everyone supports a union in this district.  There are differing opinions as to how to go about achieving and maintaining excellence.  That's okay.  I recognize that those who are advocating for something different are advocating out of the same love for the kids that I have.  I would never disparage the character of someone who believes, with good intent, that a different path for our district is a more beneficial one.  We just have different ideas about how to go about supporting our kids, our teachers, and our schools.  All I ask, at the end of the day, is that you learn about the options with an open mind, recognize the perspective of all those involved even if you don't agree with them, and try not to assume negative intentions.  We are all here for our kids.

1 comment:

  1. Perfection! Thank you for writing and sharing this post.