Monday Mythbust, Myth #1: Unions Only Benefit Teachers
Oh hey, didn’t see you there, hidden behind the ridiculously large umbrella in my cocktail drink. I’m just kicking back and relaxing. After all, that’s what my union contract is for, right? Making sure we teachers don’t have to work too hard! Haha!
Of all the myths about teachers, this is one of the most annoying ones. Why is it so hard for people to see that establishing a professional learning environment for teachers is a benefit to students? The fact is, my teacher’s union contract is full of language designed to ensure a safe and equitable educational community for the kids. You know, the ones we’re there for?
What’s more, (and I’ll delve into this further at a later date) union contracts provide a little thing called recourse. So if my principal turns out to be a sleaze who wants me to ignore the fact that I’ve got 3 more special needs kids in my room than I’m supposed to have without a teacher’s aid in place (in order to provide them the individualized attention they need), I can say something about it and my contract and my union will back me up. Without this, all the lovely rules that exist in order to make education equitable are really meaningless. The rules don’t stand up without something there to support them. In the case of teachers, it’s the union. Without a third-party between teachers and administrators there is no guarantee that the laws set forth to provide the best possible education to our children will be adhered to.
So here they are in no particular order, my top 5 union regulations that provide huge benefits to children. Teachers, can you think of any more?
1) Class size:
Parents in posh suburban communities love to brag about the small class sizes in their public schools. Overcrowded classrooms are a perennial hot button issue. Nobody wants their kid shoehorned into a crowded classroom where they won’t get the individualized attention they need to learn. So how do we make sure that doesn’t happen? Let me crack open my handy-dandy teacher’s contract, negotiated for me by yes, my union and see what it has to say about this. In fact, I’ll copy and paste the text from my own contract word for word:
“It is agreed that as soon as practical, considering availability of qualified personnel and
suitable classroom space, the maximum number of pupils per teacher will be as follows:
l. Elementary Schools
Grades 1 through 3 25
Grades 4 through 8 25
2. Senior High School
Science Laboratory 20
Shop/Career and Technical Education Lab 20
Academic subjects 30″
2) Is your kid one of the estimated 14 percent of American children with special needs? The union contract protects them too:
There is detailed language in my contract regarding special ed classroom size:
“Self-contained and/or substantially separate classes at no time shall exceed the
number set by state law.
4. To the extent possible, remedial reading classes will not exceed the maximum
recommended by the Department of Education.
6. Case load for adjustment counselors shall at no time exceed the number set by
3) My contract also stipulates that access to special education services has to be fair and equitable, no matter what neighborhood your school is in:
“The Committee recognizes that it must provide sufficient personnel to deliver services to
meet the goals and objectives mandated by a student’s individualized education program
(IEP) in accordance with the timelines established by federal and state law. Therefore, it
is the responsibility of the Office of Special Education (OSE) to ensure that caseloads for
OSE specialists fulfilling a student’s IEP are equitable throughout the district.”
4) Concerned about your kid’s safety? We’ve got rules for that too:
“The School Committee agrees to provide a workplace with adequate heating, ventilation
Where educationally feasible, larger classes will be assigned larger classrooms.”
Think those last two things are no big deal? Clearly you’ve never been asked to conduct your classes in a broom closet. Or in an unheated basement in the dead of winter. My colleagues and I have been asked to do those things. Because of the union contract, we can’t be forced to teach your children in unsafe or unsuitable environments.
5) How about supplies? Kids are supposed to have books, right?:
You wouldn’t believe what some teachers and students are asked to do without. My first year teaching I wasn’t in a union. In order to teach 24 classes over 4 grade levels (that’s roughly 500 children per week) the school provided me with one package of Crayola crayons and a stack of construction paper. I had to buy my own copy paper and pay to photocopy every worksheet I handed out and note I sent home… for 500 students. And books? We had none. I ended up paying for most of my classroom supplies out of my own pocket as I worked in a poor inner city school where I could not rely on parent donations.
That’s why I’m so glad the following language is in my current contract:
“The School Committee will continue its policy of providing sufficient funds to ensure that
each pupil in classrooms has proper instructional materials, including textbooks, for his
When was the last time your boss at your corporate job asked you to pay to photocopy those files he wants on his desk? Or required you to bring your own paperclips or folders to work? To most of working America the idea of this is laughable, even surreal, yet for teachers it is a reality. Even though my union now pays for a generous portion of my teaching supplies I still spend about $1,000 a year for supplies, to educate your child. I am by no means unique. Think about that next time you filch a free stack of Post-it notes from your office supply closet!