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Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Massachusetts' Teachers Union: Together We're Better

Hundreds of Massachusetts' educators met at UMass Amherst MTA Summer Conference 2017 to learn and lead together. 
For a long time, I had few affiliations with education organizations. I was going it alone. In the last ten years, I've started connecting with many organizations online and off which has resulted in greater capacity and ability to teach well. Essentially, together we're better.

UMass Amherst offered a beautiful location for learning.
Together we're better because we can maximize our collective talents, voices, and professional vision to access the supports we need to teach well. Alone, most educators are greatly limited by time, connections, and dollars when it comes to making the kinds of changes and accessing the types of supports we need to teach well. Together we can identify and advocate for the good schools that children, families, and communities deserve.

The strength of this united front was evident at this week's Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) Summer Conference. At the Conference, Massachusetts teachers from all over the state met to learn and lead together.

The MTA is integral when it comes to impacting the laws and finances that support our schools across the state. Further, the MTA provides countless supports and trainings to help educators with licensure, evaluations, fair work conditions/salaries, and proactive policies.

There were countless opportunities for learning.
I wish I had become involved with the MTA earlier in my career as that involvement would have saved me time and stress in many situations since I would have understood the laws well that protect and support my good work as an educator, and I would have been able to access the countless free (and sometimes stipended) trainings and opportunities to elevate my craft with regard to serving students well. Presently I'm involved with MTA as the local union secretary, member of the MTA Professional Teaching and Learning Committee (TPL), attendee at conferences/trainings, Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) alumnus, and participant in the start-up efforts to promote more nationally certified educators via the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). All of these affiliations have helped me to teach better, and have contributed to the dynamic Professional Learning Network (PLN) that I can reach out to regularly for greater support, connections, and ideas to serve students well.

As you think about the school year ahead, I recommend that you connect with your local, state and national unions to build your capacity and support to teach well. There's no reason why any teacher in Massachusetts or beyond should stay satisfied with subpar schools or work conditions. Instead, reach out with colleagues to the MTA to improve your schools and what you can do together for the students you serve. There are so many ways to get involved including the following:

Know Your Rights
At times, educators may face compromising and challenging situations in their schools or educational organizations. It's essential that educators understand their rights, and there are many ways to do that including the following:
  • Study your contract and union websites to understand the opportunities, rules, and protocols that exist.
  • Attend trainings and other events that help you to understand your rights more. Next Generation Leadership training is a good way to begin to understand your rights and potential as a union member. 
  • Get involved. Most local unions have small, stipended positions that invite your involvement and help you to better understand your rights and opportunities as union members.
  • Seek support sooner than later if there are problematic situations. Sometimes educators can be tricked into situations that don't regard their rights accurately--it's important that you reach out to your local and state unions for support sooner than later if you suspect inappropriate, unethical, or disrespectful treatment of any kind. 
Develop Your Craft
The union offers tremendous opportunities to develop your craft as an educator. The MTA website has pages dedicated to this. The Union trainings aim to meet educators' licensure, learning, and development needs, and the courses/trainings are typically free. Often there are training programs that include a stipend for participation too. The MTA trainers and development leaders are willing to come out to your school systems to train teacher groups too. 

Advocate for Better: Teachers are Nation Builders
Today's political climate makes advocacy a mainstay of education. In order to provide every child with the schools they deserve, teachers have to advocate for good laws, dedicated leaders, and significant financial support. Just yesterday, an article in The Boston Globe demonstrated that school leaders in many small charter/private schools earn much more money than educators who teach in those schools as well as educators and leaders who teach in schools with far more students and needs. This is the kind of unfair practice that takes good money and support away from our schools. Alone, educators have little voice over policy, but together as a union, we can have significant voice when it comes to supporting the schools children deserve, and as educators we know that good schools with significant support for students and educators result in safer and happier communities--the kinds of communities everyone wants to live in. I do believe that educators are nation builders, and what we do matters. As educators, the union provides us with substantial information and opportunity to become involved in the politics, governing, and leadership that create the laws, and make the budgets, that support our schools. Again the MTA website has lots of information about this work and opportunity. 

When any child in the state attends a school that does not meet his/her needs, the whole state suffers. But when children attend the schools they deserve, the whole state benefits since those children are much more likely to grow up to be successful, contributing, and happy citizens. 

Together we're better: ALL IN!
No teacher should have to suffer in schools because they don't have the support they need to teach well. That's why the MTA is fostering an "All In" campaign to develop cross-state connections and support for all educators and all schools. Already Massachusetts, a state with strong teachers' unions, is considered the top state for education in the United States. I believe that greater collegiality and connections amongst teachers aimed at serving students and families well will result in even stronger and more successful schools, and perhaps our example will spread throughout the United States and world resulting in a very strong national and international union of teachers (nation-builders) who not only stand up for and promote wonderful schools, but also help develop dynamic communities too. 

It's easy to be fooled by the slick marketing and confusing statistics that try to make average citizens believe we need a small number of very wealthy individuals to run our schools and communities. These wealthy individuals and corporations not only hope to run our schools, but they also hope to make profits from that work. Instead we need to continue to support schools that are run by all Americans through taxation and democracy--this is integral to building strong, inclusive school communities for all. What many don't realize about tax support for schools is that tax support means people have a voice whereas schools run by private donations result in schools run with the voices of a few rather than many.

At this turn in the road of humanity, our collective action matters more than ever before--only in coming together, will we create the schools, communities, and nation that children, families and all Americans deserve. 

Imagine a world where our good collaboration and connections forward life, liberty, and happiness for all. It's possible, but will take the investment of all. I choose to support this action through my efforts to forward strong schools in collaboration with colleagues in my school, school system, local union, state union, state school leadership, and national educational organizations. How will you get involved, and how will your involvement help you to create the schools that you, your children, students, and community members deserve?