This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Today is EduSolidarity Day. The idea behind this action is for teachers across the nation to answer the question “Why do teachers like me support unions?” Here is my answer.
I support unions because I believe in the legitimate power of the collective. Around the world we see people turn against hegemony. The tolerance for the omniscient, all powerful leadership is nil. Union membership affords me the ability to shape the decisions that affect the students I teach. There is space between what I believe and what others believe and mechanisms to bridge the differences. I see no signs saying it is one person’s way or the highway when I am at meetings. Instead, I participate in dialogue about what are the ways we can make positive change across the School District of Philadelphia.
Being in a union means being greater than myself. We are better when we are together. I am a smarter, more effective teacher because of my peers. I can escape the sometimes crushing walls of my isolated classroom and go to my brethren for guidance, support, and critique. Whether it’s going to professional development, linking with educators on Twitter and blogs, or attending workshops, I get better at what I do because of my interaction with other teachers.
I am in a union, not because I believe in the existence of pernicious management that is forever seeking to undermine me, but because kids need labor and management both to be on their side. As Gamal Sherif said in his guest blog on the Notebook, teacher working conditions are essentially student learning conditions. Providing a teacher with anything less than optimal working conditions makes no sense in light of the need for students to have optimal learning conditions. A true consensus cannot be formed about what great student learning environments look and feel like without the input of those on the ground.