By Chris Janotta February 21, 2011 10:27 pm
There has been much discussion as of late about teachers and their unions, most of it negative. The unions are ruining education. The unions protect bad teachers. The unions aren’t necessary. I am here to tell you, as a proud union member, that none of this is true.
As I watch what is happening in Wisconsin, I realize more and more that the American public has been hornswoggled. They have been told again and again by politicians, the media, and some of our nation’s wealthiest citizens that unions are bad, and that not only are unions out of touch with America, they are, in fact, un-American. Yet I see thousands of union members spending their days and nights in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, looking more American than anybody I have seen in my lifetime.
I see people of all ages. I see people of all races. I see people from alternative lifestyles standing side by side with men in business suits. There are people embracing strangers as if they were members of their own family while the sounds of Scottish bagpipes combine with the sounds of Native American drum beats to create beautiful music. The melting pot that is America is bubbling over with courage and conviction in Madison right now. And it is the love of their unions that brought all of these Americans together.
As I watch what is happening in Wisconsin, I also realize that every one of the American citizens who protest with one collective voice are more aware of what America is all about than many of our nation’s leaders are. It is not just Wisconsin’s governor that is trying to strip his own state’s employees of their rights; this is beginning to happen all over America. How ironic it is that the leaders who founded our great nation created laws to protect American’s rights while many of America’s current leaders create legislation that aims to take them away.
And while the Wisconsin residents are peacefully protesting the wrongs that are being cast upon them, many are risking retribution from their employers just for exercising their freedom of speech rights. Were it not for the protection of their unions, it is not much of a presumption to think that they would probably even be fired for their actions. This is why they are there; unions protect the American worker’s rights that were given to them when our Constitution–the most important document in our nation’s history–was ratified. This is the single most important reason that America needs unions.
As a teacher, I have seen my union save the jobs of teachers that would otherwise be counting themselves amongst the ranks of America’s unemployed citizens. Just recently, two teachers’ positions were eliminated in order to bring in outsourced employees instead. Luckily, both were certified to teach one of the other open teaching positions in the district and were hired back. After speaking with both teachers, they agreed that were it not for the efforts of the union, both teachers (who have been teaching twenty-plus years) would undoubtedly have been let go in order to hire younger, cheaper, less-experienced teachers. I’ve also seen my union stand up for teachers who were outspoken or who disagreed with the opinions of the school board or who had vengeful school board members attacking them because they disagreed with their teaching methods.
If a teacher cannot teach from his or her heart, it is almost impossible for learning to occur. I know this from experience. My daughter often needs help with her math homework, and math is a subject I am far from passionate about. Because of this, it is nearly impossible for me to help her with her homework without one or both of us becoming extremely frustrated (luckily my brother is a math teacher, so help is never more than a phone call away!). Why do I mention this? Because unions allow teachers to teach from the heart. They allow us to be humans who are apt to make mistakes instead of fear-filled robots who teach by the book even if the book is boring and wrong.
When you think back on the teachers you had that were most effective, I bet they were lively, out-of-the box thinkers who sometimes strayed from the conventional ways of teaching in order to make a point or to help you make a connection to the subject. They may have strayed from the text in order to impart a valuable lesson upon you that can’t be found in any textbook. In doing this, they made the subject they were teaching come alive and helped you not only to learn but also to want to learn more. But while they were doing this, they were also taking risks.
Risks that one of their student’s parents might complain they were teaching “the wrong way.” Risks that their principal might walk past their classrooms and, seeing students up and moving instead of propped upright at their desks, call them to his or her office to receive a talking to. Risks that a school board member who remembers learning “the good old-fashioned way” disapproves of their teaching methods. So why take so many risks? Because that is part of what it takes to be a good teacher. But also because they know that their union will be there to back them. You see, unions protect good teachers, not bad ones.
For some reason, though, this is never brought up. All we hear on the news is negative propaganda about the unions and their members. Rush Limbaugh even went so far as to call the public workers in Wisconsin “freeloaders.” Firemen and police officers who risk their lives on a daily basis, nurses who dedicate their lives to helping the sick, and teachers who have dedicated themselves to educating America’s children are being called freeloaders simply because they belong to unions. Your neighbors, your friends, and your relatives are being attacked simply because they belong to unions. I am being attacked because I belong to a union. A union that protects my rights, a union that negotiated a fair contract that helps me pay for most of the things my five children need, a union that urges people to exercise their right to vote. A union that is based on the democratic ideals upon which our nation was built.
So if you are not a union member, I urge you to talk to somebody that is. You will instantly see the same passion within them that is being displayed in Wisconsin right now because union workers are proud not only of their unions but also of their work and of their country. You’ll realize within minutes that belonging to a union has nothing to do with freeloading and everything to do with pursuing the American Dream. Please don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
For more information and to take action, please visit Education Votes.