What MEA membership means
I come from what I consider a relatively unique background. My father is a Democrat and union organizer. My mother is a Republican whose father didn’t see the need for a wife and mother to go to college, so as an elementary student, I witnessed the drive for and benefits of higher education. My mother became a CPA who passed the CPA exam on her first sitting and eventually represented management. I am a second career teacher who was in risk management for a private sector property management company before a divorce led me to teaching. These life experiences have led me to have an honest and thorough understanding of MEA membership and what it truly represents.
Been There, Done That, Bought the T-Shirt
There are many teachers (usually young ones) who don’t see the value of union membership. They think that they could effectively negotiate a lucrative (or at least fair) contract for their services. Maybe. When I worked in the private sector I did that. But as a secondary ELA teacher, AP teacher, and single parent, I don’t want to do that. I don’t have time for that. Just as this new data-craze takes time away from our craft, so does justifying your salary and benefits. Even if you have a great relationship with your administrator and he/she offers you a great salary and benefits package, there are no guarantees that you will continue to garner those rewards when circumstances change. Those who are interested in denouncing union membership should also be forced to denounce the salary, benefits, and working conditions that go along with it. My mother is under the impression that no one would quit union membership, but she still takes the results the union achieved because “that’s stealing.” I hope she is right. As a single parent, I appreciate the “village” that has helped raise my children now 17 and 20. The MEA has been an important part of that village by enabling me to have a living wage for my family. It has also given my children’s teachers the peace of mind relative to their own families’ needs so that they can focus on my children’s education.
You Are Not All That and a Bag of Chips
There are many teachers who think that they could somehow get more for themselves because they are so great at their job. I consider myself a good teacher. I have won multiple student-choice awards and have had excellent evaluations-- if either of these things means anything. But in my 15 years in the profession, I have met more great teachers than I can count. I am currently involved in a couple of different programs through the NEA that have allowed me to meet teachers from across the country. There are lots of great teachers. According to NEA estimates, there are 3.7 million teachers in the U.S. I would hope no one is naïve enough to think he or she is impressive enough to not be replaced by someone just as good, just as eager, and much cheaper! The work that was done by the MEA to get us the salary, benefits, and working conditions we still enjoy (significantly better than most states) was essential. The new battle seems to be acknowledgement of our professionalism. It is only by working together to build up each other and the profession as a whole that we will survive this war. MEA and NEA are working to make that happen. We are a union, yes. With that title comes all the history of labor organizations – both good and bad. But we are also college-educated professionals who deserve the respect that other professional organizations get through continued development and self-policing. No one questions the professional union of doctors (AMA), lawyers (ABA), or accountants (CPA) and by working together to build up our organization, no one will question ours.
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor
During the first contract negotiations in my teaching career, the district proposed a tiered benefit package. All of the current teachers would have a higher level of benefits than any new hire. In my building this would affect three of about 15 full-time teachers in my department if that had passed. I will never forget the fervor in the heavily attended building union meeting when this was first discussed. The resounding “over our dead bodies” will new teachers be given less than we have stance, filled me with pride. I wonder how that discussion would go today or whether or not the meeting would even be heavily attended. There is no doubt our profession is under attack. This attack is not from the union, however. If we don’t appreciate everything we’ve gained and are still to gain from our union affiliation, we will all lose in the long run. Politicians and business leaders are attempting to turn public education into The Hunger Games (to borrow a phrase from my president); it is our responsibility to work together to not allow that to happen. Public education is too important for the future of our students. Public education is too important for the future of this nation. The union is ours. Active participation is our duty. Membership is our right.