So you don’t have a teacher’s union at your school…
You’re unsure of what to do. You may be concerned that you are unprotected from the unhindered desires of district administrators. Reformers will say that if you’re good to a great employee, you have nothing to worry about. This is true in most cases. I worked in a school where there was no teacher’s union and for the most part, I was fine. However, I ended up leaving due in part to being required to teach a content area and grade level I was not certified nor experienced to teach. I was told that in addition to my normal grade and content area that I would be evaluated in the classroom where I was not certified to be. Had there been a teacher’s union, I am sure that would not have happened. But without a union, administrators are free to bend the rules to meet the “needs” of the school. Administrators aren’t evil (though some would disagree with me). They have deadlines and constraints like teachers do. They have lots of responsibility and they have to work with what they have; this is all true but it is not your problem. A teachers union provides checks and balances. A union provides for a collective bargaining agreement that sets the parameters for your responsibilities and the responsibilities for all teachers on the job. Without it, the school won’t collapse, however, administrators can change the rules as they go along to meet their needs and concerns. So, what do you do absent a teachers union at your school?
- DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! If you aren’t the most organized with your paperwork and your emails, take an organization class and get your files and paperwork organized. You want to be sure that you have all the evidence you need of what conversations were had and what directives were given in order to protect yourself and possibly your teacher colleagues. Having your files in order will save you headaches if you must do battle with an administrator over an issue.
- DO EVERYTHING YOUR ADMINISTRATION SAYS. I mentioned this in a previous post; when you do exactly what your administrators say as per a directive given by them, they are responsible if things go wrong. I do not wish any bad thing on administrators but without a union you have to watch out for yourself. Administrators come in many shapes and sizes. Some may be great people and great leaders. Others may be great leaders and not great people; great people and not great leaders or they may be neither one nor the other. Do what they say and let them handle the fallout if their directive is unsuccessful.
- EMAIL TO CLARIFY EVERY DIRECTIVE. When you have a conversation with an administrator and they specifically give you a directive or when you receive a school-wide mandate, email that administrator or your principal to clarify that directive. Specifically, paraphrase the directive and ask them to either confirm or deny. Doing so puts their directive in writing, especially if it wasn’t already in writing. It also shows that you communicated for a better understand on what to do. Lastly, it gives you evidence in the case that you are potentially being blamed for something in relation to the directive.
- JOIN YOUR STATE TEACHER’S UNION. When there is a union at your school and you join, union dues are deducted from your check. You can contact the state teacher’s union and ask for a teacher membership and ask if they can deduct the dues on a monthly or bi-weekly basis from your checking account. You may not have the luxury of a building representative, however if something comes up and you need support, the union can offer you that support if you are a member; even if your school is absent a union.
- DO YOUR JOB. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. When you do your best and you do your job in the classroom, turn in lesson plans on time, near perfect attendance, never late, good evaluation scores, good comments on your teaching from students and parents, chances are your administration will highly value you and not want to do anything to make you leave. One thing school administrations value is great teachers. They will fight for you and make sure you are happy. If you do the best that you can and become an institution within your school, you can decide whether you stay or go.
Being without a teachers union isn’t the end of the world. However, you should employ these tactics to make sure that your world isn’t a different one to live in.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark.