The necessity of teachers’ unions

Educators’ collective action improves the lives of both teachers and their students.

by Ronald Dixon

The Anoka-Hennepin school district’s 3,000 teachers recently decided that they would no longer be staying late, a practice schools often require to edit lesson plans, grade papers and input test scores.

At first glance, it may appear these teachers are acting only in their own interest, as if students’ needs are no longer important. But closer inspection disproves this assumption.

Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the teachers’ union representing the district’s instructors, motivated teachers to use after-school work as their main reason for fair pay and benefits. Instructors feel that if they don’t see fair treatment, then they won’t put in these extra after-school hours.

As a debate and speech coach, I have a glimpse of the time and energy that teachers commit to students. Instructing in an educational environment for a few hours alone provides an appreciation for the dedication within every classroom. Given their dedication, teachers should continue this partial strike.

Teachers’ unions are criticized by parents and politicians, especially given their political standpoints. Some argue teachers’ unions prioritize the teachers’ wants over students’ needs and that unions fuel a system where less-skilled, tenured teachers are treated better than young, effective instructors. These claims are without warrant.

First, teachers’ unions represent the instructors’ needs, rather than trivial desires. Although some teachers have the capacity to make a high salary, there are many more teachers starting at less than $40,000, a wage inconsistent with the societal need for teachers. Teachers are the ones who prepare students for their professional, intellectual and adult lives. What message does it send when they struggle to earn a decent wage?

Moreover, the unions’ proposals do not sacrifice the educational necessities of students. At worst, students may temporarily need to wait an extra day to receive help from teachers. This is a small price to pay when these policies help incentivize school districts to provide better benefits. When instructors’ needs are met, they are better able to focus on training the next generation of productive members of society. Indeed, teachers and students alike share the long-term benefits of such practices.

Finally, teachers’ unions are necessary to retain high-quality teachers. Although I favor reviewing tenured teachers’ performances, the fact that these teachers have been active in the teaching community for so long serves as a testament to their abilities. Not rewarding their labor will put a district at a risk of losing talented instructors to schools that value teachers.

In contemporary society, the fault of failed children lies with teachers. Conversely, Americans also expect teachers to serve not only as instructors but as childcare workers and mentors as well. It’s appalling that some blame educators for the shortcomings of American children. While teachers do sensitive yet critical work with children, they are also employees who deserve fair treatment. The education system may fail some children, but it’s not worth blaming the bottom line when systematic problems in education still exist.

To strengthen Minnesota’s largest school district, it’s time to guarantee fair benefits for the commitments of educators.