Should I Join the Union?

 

I want to associate with groups that are transforming the profession and providing opportunities for me to develop my practice and leadership skills. I don’t want to associate with groups that preserve the blue collar, us against them, power through solidarity status quo.  The Union does both and that makes joining a terrifically difficult decision for me.

In my district the Local is ineffective and near silent on issues such as teacher displacement, school turn arounds, and our search for a new superintendent.  Nationally, I claim no solidarity with Union teachers in Wisconsin or members of unions from other professions, like those who introduce President Obama with, “President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.”

Furthermore, it’s not uncommon to hear, in teacher circles, that we need a profession that looks like America – a reference to gender, ethnicity, and race.  But the Union manifestly doesn’t want a profession that thinks like America – at least regarding issues like abortion, gun rights, and immigration.

Personally, although the Union has every right to speak freely on any issue it wants, I value my independence and don’t want, by professional association, to be publically supportive of any political cause.

And so why, given all that, would I even think of joining the Union?

Because since joining the teacher leader movement I’ve seen another, too little publicized, side of the Union.  At a recent event I asked a national Union leader if she wanted a union that thinks like America and she said the Union needs more diversity of thought and that she seeks out people whose views diverge from hers.  She added that change would only come from within.

Personally, I’m a much better classroom teacher thanks to professional development supported by the state Union.  I’ve also helped facilitate and have been well-compensated at conferences with a strong and explicit Union presence. A friend and confidant suggested that more opportunities might come to me as a Union member.  Another confirmed that Union membership did open doors for her.

My professional network now includes friends from across the nation who are effected by nearly every issue that ends up in the news.  Seattle teachers boycotting tests?  I’ve got friends close by. Chicago strike? Got friends involved. Common Core Assessments? Got friends on the development team.

Every one of these friends is a model of integrity dedicated to working tirelessly to educate our nation’s children and transform the profession.  They take a long view of what education and teaching in America could look like. They are in many cases twenty, even thirty years younger than me. At times I imagine myself in my 80’s (si Dios me presta vida y salud).  My teacher leader friends are nearing retirement and I say to myself, “They got it done. They made ours a true profession.”

I do feel solidarity with these friends, and am honored to be included in their movement.  And many, many are Union members who consider the Union an indispensable ally.

There is no final analysis.  I don’t know which wrong choice bears the heavier cost.  But I do know that I am 100 percent responsible for my decision, and whenever confronted with uncertainty, my default position is to act.  So I will join.  I’m betting that membership will enable me to leverage my efforts without feeling compromised and open doors without feeling opportunistic.

The decision is made, but question is not resolved.

 

Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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