Rock the Union

March 23, 2015

Rock the Union. Younger teachers are less connected to their unions than their older colleagues are. The unions are very aware of this, and the National Education Association in particular is making outreach to its newest members a high priority. Whether this can be done without sacrificing the support of veteran members remains to be seen. Still, the ability of NEA headquarters to craft a campaign has never been in dispute.

In 2013, the union partnered with Teach Plus to develop a program and last year they produced “Rock the Union: An Action Plan to Engage Early Career Teachers & Elevate the Profession.” NEA called the report “groundbreaking” and included a workshop on its findings in a recent leadership summit. Oh, and they created a PowToon to introduce it.

I have posted the report on the EIA web site. You can access it and other union documents on the Declassified page. It is short and I want to encourage you to read it all, so here I will just cite a few lines.

* “We want our union to be led by effective teachers who welcome divergent perspectives and critical thinking in their classrooms and in their union meetings.”

* “In fact, when many of us attend union meetings, we will not hear the word ‘student’ uttered at all.

* “We want our union leaders, first and foremost, to be great teachers so that they enable a culture of professionalism and student-centered decision making to flourish….One constant for all building rep positions is that there is no way to ensure that they are effective teachers.”

* “Teachers can disengage from the union when meetings turn into yelling matches where site reps speak disparagingly about administration in a way that contributes to an adversarial ‘us vs. them’ culture. It is frustrating when union leaders appear to blanket all external support partners with suspicion and ill intent.”

* “Most importantly, it is unclear how to advocate for change within the union or to use the union as an avenue to advocate for improved change at any level, be it school site, district, state, or national. It seems that most of this knowledge lies within the realm of those serving in positions of leadership and is selectively disseminated to those chosen to receive it.”

* “There is a ‘wait your turn’ mentality that early career teachers often come up against so that we are made to feel that our voice does not matter. Most of us have experienced our divergent opinions dismissed as wrong and/or naive because we have fewer years in the classroom.”

In keeping with the report’s findings, it seems this information is being shared only among union activists, officers and staff. As far as I can discern, it has not been widely disseminated, which I hope to rectify here. Check it out.

Story Update. After our story “California Teachers Association Fired Staff Union President” we received the following communication: “Thank you for your article regarding CTA’s firing of California Associate Staff President, Katie Mullins. CAS’ position is not one that implies Katie was due any discipline, progressive or otherwise. Our position is that CTA has wrongfully terminated our President and is behaving badly and unlike a union.”

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 17-23:

There Are Three Sides to Any NEA Story. Your angle is less than right.

Fear Is the Path to the Dark Side. An invitation.

If At First You Don’t Secede…. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Shot Across the Bow. Teachsters in Las Vegas?

NEA Leadership Summit Sessions. “Fighting Predatory Municipal Finance Deals” and other crucial education issues.

Quote of the Week. “I wouldn’t be able to do a very good job as president of an organization as big as JCTA, but neither is our current president.” – Kris Tatro, candidate for president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association in Kentucky. Tatro and two others teachers are running against the 14-year incumbent, Brent McKim, as a protest against the way the union is handling pension issues. Tatro said she doesn’t actually want to be president. (March 18 Louisville Courier-Journal)