Are teacher unions just an insurance policy?

I remember attending an orientation day for all the new teachers in my district. It was overwhelming, being a brand new teacher, fresh out of college. On the new teacher orientation day, the union representatives were stationed at a table waiting for new teachers to join. As a new teacher, I felt like I had no choice, but to join. To be a teacher meant to join the union and to pay the monthly dues. Paying dues was like paying for insurance. If a problem should happen with a student, the union would provide representation. If teachers’ salaries or benefits were in danger, the union would be there to fight for what was fair.

With every pay check, I take note of the dollars and cents being deducted from my pay, and I wonder if I should expect more from the union than just insurance. In the past few years, I have fortunately witnessed some changes in our union. The union seems a little less like a silent entity, needed only in case of an emergency, and more like a group that is making an effort to interact with teachers or at least keep teachers informed.

In the past, I didn’t really feel like I was updated on the work being done by our union representatives. Now, we get frequent emails updating us on important issues being addressed by the union. The emails also ask for our opinions and our participation. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the union was offering professional development workshops. My hope is that the lines of communication continue to grow and that the union becomes a positive voice for teachers and a helping hand to teachers on the bad days and the good days.

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