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Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

  • Posted on March 21, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I grew up in a teacher household.  My parents were both teachers.  I think they were amazing, especially when you think back to the time when they were growing up.  My parents were born in 1909 and 1911.  Dad grew up in a very large family.  It really is amazing that so many of his family received a great education.  Mom grew up in a smaller family that was more prosperous, but she also was fortunate to have received a great education.  They met at Central, fell in love during the depression and raised a huge family together.  They were hard working farm people.  Mom went back to teaching when I was young in the late fifties.  Dad joined her when we had farm difficulties and they both were hired by Kingston Public Schools in the “thumb” of Michigan in the early sixties.  We used to summer back up north in Leelanau county on our old farm where dad continued farming and working for Jimmy Johnson as a mechanic over in Empire.  Mom and Dad both worked so hard.  We needed that income in the summer when dad worked the other jobs and farmed.  We lived a simple life.  We only went on one big vacation when I was growing up.  We went out west and saw my brother, Jim, in California.  That was a big deal!  My brothers and I picked cherries and strawberries in the summer.  We all worked for the common good of the family. My parents were both proud members of the NEA, MEA and of course KEA.  When they first started teaching salaries were very low.  I don’t know how they managed really.  After my dad died, I went up to clean his house and organize it.  One paper I came across sure explained a lot for me about our Christmas times.  Dad and mom had built a huge pole barn and they had a loan that evidently was written as a yearly note.  The note came due just before Christmas each year.  It was over a thousand dollars.  I don’t remember the exact amount but I remember thinking about their pay and how hard they worked all year long.  If dad hadn’t worked the farm in the summer and also worked as a mechanic, they wouldn’t have been able to pay that bill.  I remember when mom made “Egg ala Goldenrod”.  As a kid I remember it stuck to the roof of my mouth and it was awful.  It was eggplant fried in egg and it was something cheap because they could grow it.  Looking back I knew times were tough when we were eating that!  We used to go to my aunt and uncle’s place and get some free clothing.  Of course they had a large family and their children got first dibs.  The clothing was donated from church.  I remember a brown and black pin striped jumper that I wore for my school pictures that came from that room at my aunt’s place.  Around the time I became a sixth grader things got better.  Mom became involved in getting a union in Kingston.  I know she worked on negotiations.  When I was in high school we were living over in Cass City.  I remember a lot was going on with the Reese teachers.  One day our family drove over to Reese.  I must have been a junior in school.  We went over to support the teachers.  The teachers were on strike.  They were the Reese 44.  In the end, they all lost their jobs even though they had been a part of the community for years.  They were thrown out like yesterday’s paper.  They took a stand and lost.  I remember how my parents felt for those teachers.  They felt a kinship and solidarity with them.  You may have to scroll down the page a bit but check out the video from the past president of the Reese union.  He went on to work for the MEA but he never taught again! Recently, all that my parents and teachers all over the country have fought for over the years has been summarily dismissed by politicians who have been hell bent on destroying the teachers’ unions.  Some young teachers today have no idea how it was back in the days before unions.  Teachers were completely at will.  If some school board member had a kid graduating from college and they needed a job, a teacher could be let go to make room for the kid.  Teachers could be let go because a superintendent or principal had a personality conflict with them. I really never thought I’d be a teacher.  I saw everything my parents went through and even the Reese 44.  My mom loved teaching and she even had that teacher voice.  She could be yelling at us kids one moment and then answer the phone ever so sweetly the next.  Any teacher knows all about that.  My dad had to deal with a lot of rough boys that were coming in from Teen Ranch.  It was kind of a place for wayward boys.  They called my dad “Cotton Top” because of his white hair.  He was given many of those hard to handle students I think because he could handle them.  It probably helped that he had ten boys of his own.  Dad taught math and science and mom taught English and home economics.  Dad also coached junior high and my mother headed up the Future Homemakers of America.  I’m not sure FHA is even around any more.  My parents were dedicated teachers.  Mom would work on her lesson plans for the year throughout the summer months.  When I decided to become an art major my mom encouraged me to get my teaching certificate I think so I would have a “marketable skill” to go with my degree.  After graduation I first taught at Fowler, Michigan.  I loved teaching in Fowler.  I remember the excitement of my first teaching job. I left Fowler to follow my husband to Oklahoma.  In Oklahoma I wanted to develop my art which was pottery so that’s what I worked on.  I made pottery and went to art shows.  I took courses out at Southwestern Oklahoma State University with Montee Hoke, a fellow potter from MSU.  A few years later my husband left me in Oklahoma with my two month old baby, Josh.  I continued working and selling pottery to support us.  I saved up my money so I could move back to Michigan to be close to my parents.  I wanted my son to know his grandparents.  I continued making my living off my artwork in Michigan.  When my son was in kindergarten, I took my pottery wheel and clay in to school to demonstrate.  I had a blast!  I loved working with the kids and I started thinking about going back to teaching.  I’d been out for quite a few years so this was not an easy decision.  I had to go back to school to get my certificate updated.  I wasn’t sure how I could do that.  The thought of taking classes after so many years away from it boggled my mind.  My parents helped me and even loaned me the money that I needed for school.  My parents always believed in me and encouraged me.  I am so thankful that I listened to their wise counsel. I went to Central Michigan University when Josh was in second grade.  He started school at Glen Lake and then went to Mt. Pleasant and back up to Glen Lake at the end of the winter term.  These were both public schools.  That was a lot for a kid but it was an adventure for both of us!  Josh became friends with his first “black” friend, Kyle.  This was my son’s first real exposure to diversity.  It was a great learning experience, even if the school year was disrupted a couple of times.  His teachers at Glen Lake knew what I was doing so they knew he would be coming back and they were supportive. I taught the next year at Manistee and then the following year we moved to Sturgis.  I’ve been teaching at Sturgis since August of 1993.  I can’t believe how time has just flown by.  I love teaching art.  I think about teaching all the time.  I’m constantly researching things online and looking up things in my countless books because I always want to do more.  When I’m shopping I see things through my teacher’s eyes and think about how I can use something I’ve seen in a lesson plan.  Working with young people is both challenging and exciting.  I love middle school students because they are so energetic and full of ideas. Being in a union has helped me in many ways to become a better teacher.  I fully believe in a great public school system.  It is the great leveler of our society.  If you can get a good education, you have the potential to go far.  Unions are more than just there for bargaining rights that deal with salary and benefits.  There is solidarity to working towards a common goal in education.  The teachers that I know first have an obligation to their students.  The goal is to provide students with the best possible education.  Many teachers work hard to improve their teaching ability by taking courses, attending professional development seminars and even by doing research on their own.  Teachers have to stay updated on material.  Most have embraced the computer technology age and were among the first to get computers and learn how to use them.  We all work with our administrations to try and design curriculum that is both challenging and exciting.  While some people may feel it is “us” against “them” at my school it really isn’t.  We are all interested in the best interest of the students.  Administrators and teachers work side by side on planning and coming up with strategies to improve the school and the school climate.  The teacher unions across this country have bargained to restrict class size, accommodate students with special needs and even promoting curriculum that benefits all children. While teaching I have learned to respect all workers, union and non-union.  I feel a kinship with all workers that strive to earn a fair, living wage.  In my mind, our country was built by unions and the middle class grew out of unions.  I saw how my parents were better off after teachers became unionized.  I wouldn’t want to be summarily dismissed like those teachers who were called the Reese 44.  They were in the early stages of union formation.  What they lost, the rest of us gained.  They took a stand and the rest of us benefited from their bravery. Today we have brave union workers standing up for all union workers.  They have been protesting in Wisconsin and many other states.  Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to take a stand.  I can write on my blog, but these people are the real heroes.  They faithfully show up to do the tough work and to take the abuse for the rest of us.  The rest of us sit here not wanting to make any waves, hoping that our jobs are secure and knowing that the wave of teacher bashing is knocking at our door.  Most people that know me know how dedicated I am to my profession.  I am a proud NEA member.  I wear my red blouse today as a badge of honor.  The real heroes though are marching on the capital buildings and they wear what is truly a red badge of courage.  They have a target on their backs and most of us hope that target doesn’t move our way.  However, it is moving our way!  It is moving like a wave across this nation by a group of politicians that have decided that we, the teachers of America, are the problem.  I will wear my red today and I will be proud of my profession and my union because I truly know that I give everything I can to my students.  I live to teach, not just teach to live.  Politicians may think they know me, but they don’t know the half of who I really am and what my dedication and profession is all about.  I believe in sharing knowledge and helping people get the best education possible.  It doesn’t matter to me if you are poor, wealthy or somewhere in between.  I want to spark the imagination of all my students and I go to school and make my classroom a “home away from home” for your child.  I stay after to help students that need more time or just to give them a place to go.  My dedication and commitment would not be questioned by people that know me.  The people that question my integrity are paper pushers that live in a world of political corruption where money for war is never questioned, but money for education is always questioned.  The cousins to these people have invaded our states where tax breaks for big companies is more important than the education of our children.  Under President Bush we were asked to do more with less.  We have done that.  Now we have more politicians asking us to do more with less. I’ve always believed in the goodness of people.  Some people think I can be naïve because I really want the best to come out of people.  I certainly don’t want to see the worse side of a person.  I know these politicians can do better.  I know that the standard they want me to live at as a teacher is one that they are not expecting of themselves.  Many politicians, especially in Washington D.C. are millionaires.  As a single teacher my standard of living is pretty simple.  I drive an old car and live in a little house.  There is no glitz and no glamour.  My life is one of dedication to my profession.  I would like to ask these politicians to ask themselves a simple question that President Kennedy challenged us with a long time ago.  I would say, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?”  I ask this question because destroying the middle class and the education of the middle class and the poor by not funding education properly is destroying our country.  If we want a prosperous society, then we must fully fund education, save the middle class, and give a hand of kindness to the poor and struggling in this country.  We don’t need to prop up business with huge tax incentives, pander to the wealthy with lavish tax cuts, spend unheard of amounts of money on endless war and of course we don’t need to spend a couple billion dollars on the next election.  We need a society that is more interested in the content of our character than in the size of the pocketbook or wallet that we carry.  Workers of this country need to unite today in solidarity.  If you can do this one little thing, it might start a chain reaction.  As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  Wear your red proudly today and show your patriotism for your country and for all working Americans.  Our local union president has asked us to wear red for the rest of the Tuesdays until school is out.  It’s nice to have my Tuesday outfit ready to go for the rest of the school year.  I will wear my red and be proud to be a National Education Association member!

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