Community | Opinion

As a public school teacher, I choose to be in my union

Teacher unions have received their share of accusations just like any other unionized workforce. There has been a push this year to get more teachers to opt out of union membership, which had to be done in August. In my experience, I have seen teacher unions do more to aid in the education of students than any politician. In a line, teacher unions give teachers a voice in the massive political wheel of education reform.

There are many influences in the education game from publishers and test administers to ideologues trying to make sweeping polarized changes to schools. How does one teacher have a voice in politics today? The cold fact is that one person has the power to vote or maybe the power to influence, but it is the power to organize that leads to meaningful political weight. If politicians are going to continuously reform schools, then teachers must be part of that conversation in Lansing and Washington.

Teacher unions do not protect bad teachers, they are not selfish, and they absolutely do not put their own salaries before students. Teacher unions fight for the teaching profession and everything that goes along with it. I believe that teachers should have safe working conditions because it means safe learning conditions for students. Teachers should be paid a honest wage because it means schools can secure the best applicants for our children. Teachers should have a defined workplace because it leads to a high functioning education experience for students.

In order to protect the education of students, we must be willing to protect the profession of educators. There is no separation between the job I do and the education of my students, so teacher employment conditions are directly related to the education every child receives. Without unionization, the teaching profession is left vulnerable to the swinging pendulum of political sway because education reform is politics. I choose to secure the voice of educators before the voices of special interest and those seeking large profits in the administering, testing, and publishing aspects of reform.

The opt out campaign is a push to break apart voices and to weaken the influence of educators across the State of Michigan. I am willing to give up part of my pay in order to secure this influence for the future of this country. Union membership is not a selfish act, but a duty that simply extends from my continuing dedication to students. It is inherent in the profession that a teacher will educate her or his students and do everything they can each and every school day. The education of students, though, is larger than the classroom. The classroom is impacted by the school, the district, and the politics.

I do not relish in the choice of whether or not be in my union, but because of the current politics I affirm my commitment both in the classroom and among the larger society. I cannot just simply dig my head in the sand and hope for people, who have never worked in a classroom, make all the right decisions that impact the crucial education of students. Politics is a part of education, and I choose for my profession to be part of that debate.

Paul Ruth
Paul obtained a M.A. in English from Marygrove College and is a high school English teacher at East Detroit High School and adjunct college English instructor. He has been published in various places around the web, and seeks to write on topics that impact the greater community.