At the Union meeting, a colleague reminded everyone to know the contract well. I slipped down in my chair as I had not read the contract carefully. It seemed so complex to me--all that legal language. Yet now as a building representative, I knew I had to read the contract. So I sat down and read every word.
I should have read it before as knowing the contract would have saved me a few dollars over the years. Money that could possibly have been mine for a number of professional efforts was lost due to the fact that I didn't know my rights. I would have faced a bit less grief too if I had known my rights well as our local teachers' contract protects our rights and working conditions in the work place. Essentially it provides what we need to do a good job.
With that in mind, what does this mean for me and others going forward.
First, there were a number of contractual items that I was unsure of with regard to meaning. Though I fear sounding stupid, I will inquire about those matters at the next board meeting. It's very possible that if I'm confused about those items, others are probably confused too.
Next as I think about our upcoming contract negotiations, I realize that some items may not serve some educators well. I'm curious as to what the membership feel with regard to their rights--what will help them to do an even better job than they are already doing in the classroom/school, and what holds them back or frustrates the good work possible?
Further, I want to help my colleagues access the benefits possible at the local, state, and national level with regard to union membership. There's a lot to gain if you know what's out there. For example our State Union gives up to $1,000 a year to small unions like ours to support students in need--just think that's possibly 5 Chromebooks for elementary students who may not have computer access, snow pants and boots for children who don't have them, or a summer camp fee for a few children for a local summer camp. The union also supports a dynamic summer reading program that our whole school could sign on to. If we do that, it's possible that some of our students could win Red Sox tickets in return for their summer reading.
Recently I met a dynamic educator from Vermont who utilizes the Union well to support her own growth, her students' learning, and her colleagues professional efforts. She has been the recipient of the NEA recognition programs, and that has significantly impacted her career and outreach. Our system can better use those programs to boost each other and in turn boost what we all can do in our system.
System leaders, while trying to support educators, are also responsible for local budgets and administrative decisions. The Union on the other hand is focused solely on educators and their needs. The potential synergy between the two groups can create positive outcomes and results if used well with attention to detail, daily needs, vision, and mission.
In the past, as a working elementary school teacher with young children, I was so busy that it was difficult to keep my eyes open at the end of the day. I didn't have much time to read the contract or seek out my rights and benefits. Now as an older working mom and educator, I want to help support my younger, busier colleagues by making the contract and benefits more user friendly. For example as a young mom I could never access our professional learning fees because I didn't have the money I needed to put up front to take a course. Now with careful reading of the contract, I realize that there are some existing ways around that as well as potential for new language to serve educators who don't have the cash flow due to day care and mortgage payments to access benefits that will help them to develop their careers as professional educators.
I wish I had discovered the potential our teacher's union holds earlier in my career. As a young teacher I was a board member of the union, but frankly I never really understood what the leaders were talking about, and I really was afraid to speak up at the table since I didn't understand what was going on. Now as an older, more seasoned professional, I realize that the Union holds value and promise for educators--it's a group that has the potential to move our professional work and efforts forward in dignified, promising ways.