Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Teachers Unions

Today is EduSolidarity Day, and I stand united with my colleagues in this profession who are speaking up for our unions. I would like to share how my involvement with my teachers union has made a better teacher leader by reposting this entry:

Almost a year ago during the times when I was very restless, I wrote a reflective entry On Becoming a Teacher Leader. I shared that I spent my college years at the University of the Philippines, the premiere state university in my country, where freedom of thought and expression was exercised which provided me with a complete armory for activism. But then I heeded the advice of my mom to focus on my academic responsibilities and never to get involved in any form of political action. My professors gave me the wisdom and the skills to learn the Socratic way, and the passion to stand up for what is right became an integral part of my words, thoughts and actions.

The prospects are both exciting and frightening where I am now. Keeping body and soul together can be as formidable as any journey especially when the train where we are all in seems to be moving towards the wrong direction...are we still going to the final destination? Thanks to the guidance and encouragement of some significant leaders of our teachers union, I am not giving up hope.

There are so much things happening right now on the local and national level which lead to frustration, anger, and all that is harmful not only to the teachers but also to the children whose lives we continue to influence daily. It is always a challenge to not fall prey to victimization and to steer clear of the blame game. After going through a long and meaningful introspection, I realized that working with the people who have the same mission has taught me to fully understand my role as a teacher leader. As I said earlier, "I realized that when I empower, support, encourage and inspire the teachers to do their best for the kids, I am impacting the lives of more than just the students in my classroom."

While we do our best in the Washington Teachers Union (WTU, Local 6 of the AFT) to make decisions that are best for the kids and fair to teachers, debates and heated arguments happen on the table just like in any active policymaking body. When this happens, I remind myself to choose my reactions. As it is a fact that circumstances don't "make" the teacher; circumstances "reveal" the teacher.

I have learned so much as a member of the WTU executive board (2007-2010), from policymaking, keeping relationships with the staff and partners, to establishing rapport with my colleagues. I have also learned and internalized some core values in life, that it is important for us executive board members to be team players, to respect each other's views, and to collectively adopt a "can-do" attitude and to be willing to pitch in to get the union's work done. It is also required for us to look for ways to build consensus, and respect and support the majority decisions of the board. It is also imperative that we refrain from criticizing fellow board members, discussing confidential proceedings outside of board meetings or interfering in the duties of the officers. There are still many of us who have made a firm decision to keep our integrity and professionalism.

I believe that it is unfair to lay all the blame of the current state of education at the feet of the teachers unions. Our union representatives exist to uphold the due process rights of full dues paying members like me, just as a defense attorney would protect the accused. While many people (mostly are not educators) attack the teachers unions, I strongly profess that I have become a better teacher and a stronger leader because of my teachers union.
Let's keep the fire burning!
Maria Angala, NBCT (Exceptional Needs Specialist)
WTU Vice President of Special Education 2007-2010

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