Another blog from the Michigan Education Association’s “Teacher as Change Agent” course (facilitated by the Teacher in a Strange Land). Julie Christensen, President of the Beal City Education Association, shares these thoughts with her colleague:
As the school year comes to a close and we frantically alter our lesson plans to include one more assembly and one more lesson to help them “really get it,” I wonder how each of you chose to go into teaching. I stumbled upon a memory book I received when I was going into kindergarten. Each year had a place for a picture, a pocket to put important tokens and a page to record what happened that school year. At the very bottom of the page, there was a list of careers that I was supposed to check: what did I want to be when I grew up? Being a teacher was checked every year. Yes, there were times I checked cowboy or mom, or even doctor, but being a teacher never faltered. Having said that, I want to let you know before I begin that never once did I write in that I wanted to be a Union President.
Having admitted that, this is not a letter of resignation, but rather a letter of recognition. I fully believe in being a member of a teachers’ union with colleagues like you. I really do mean all of you. We may not always see eye to eye, but I do not doubt that your decision to become a teacher was one of the noblest decisions you have ever made. It is that dedication that needs to be protected and honored. This is our Stone Soup.
Stone Soup was my favorite story growing up. It always amazed me how people had to be convinced that their little contribution was going to be the “perfect ingredient” to make the stone soup the best ever. Each of us is an expert in our field. It takes all of our expertise to create a quality public education system for our students. They need each of us to be there as their advocates as those around them try to take away their most basic right; free education.
In using the Stone Soup analogy, it might appear that I believe myself to be the guy stirring the stone around in an empty pot, but that is not the case. I am a basic contributor too. The creators of this legacy are all of those educators that came before us--those educators who made us want to go into teaching. They started the fire and protected it with the understanding that we would do the same. They had the courage to stand up for what was good in education and pave a way for the rest of us to continue on that path. The road they started is not finished.
On the most elemental level, that is what our union does for us. It helps us to support public education. There are policy-makers who would like nothing more than a high-quality education to go only to only those who can afford it. They want to turn it in to a for-profit business. We, as teachers, will be funding that business with our paychecks.
The teachers’ union helped us to obtain a living wage by doing what we do best; teach. It is not a perfect entity. It is made up of fallible parts. However, we each contribute the best of what we can--and that is what has made us strong advocates for our students and this educational system.
When I look at my own situation, I know that I could never, in good conscience, drop out of my union. I believe in it too much. I believe in you too much. Even when I look at my dues, knowing for some of us that saving that money looks appealing, I realize that without our union, our own salaries will be considerably less. I also know that as burned out as many of us feel, we have dedicated too much time to our students to leave their future in less competent hands.
We all have something vital to contribute. Each of us brings what we can to this association; dues, time, experience. Without these, we are less than we could be. As each of you considers what your contribution will be, this must be said: we need you! We may not always see eye to eye. We may not always see how we can work together, but if everyone contributed the exact same ideas, opinions, and talents, our association would be quite mediocre. Of course, we teachers are FAR from mediocre. Let’s make this organization work for us, and for our students.
The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.