Most (probably ALL) of us decided to become teachers (or counselors, social workers, librarians, etc.) because we liked kids and loved our subject area. We wanted to change lives and make a difference. We didn’t think teaching would make us rich, but we hoped it would make us respected. After all, parents trusted us with their children and we did our best to reward that trust with well-educated, productive little citizens.
Now we are the focus of politicians who have made it clear that they see us differently. Since the 2010 election, legislators have passed (and Governor Snyder has signed) one law after another, radically affecting our pay, our health care benefits, our local control, our protections, our ability to focus on teaching, and even the specific content of what we teach.
Few of us (if any) enjoys politics that involves protesting, making phone calls to issue-deaf lawmakers, writing letters and talking to community members who have accepted the distortions about us that appear in the media.
However, the unpleasant reality is that big changes have come, and even bigger ones are on the horizon. The writing on the wall is that the current powers in Michigan will not stop until they have effectively neutered or dismantled the MEA and MESSA. And it can feel frustrating when you pay hundreds of dollars in dues money, only to feel powerless politically and vulnerable professionally.
Perhaps a good analogy comes from the classroom. No matter how carefully and thoroughly you might plan a lesson, when you finally assess your students’ learning, some of them simply have failed to learn the content. It isn’t because you didn’t do your best — you simply were fighting against factors outside of your control (poor attendance, lack of family support, below-grade-level skills, etc.). We wouldn’t think of blaming you for outcomes you couldn’t control. And we shouldn’t blame the MEA for failing to control a State Senate and House that is equally out of control.
If you truly feel that you aren’t getting your money’s worth for the dues you pay, please consider this: when MEA is gone, so will the following . . .
The rights in your contract
Your negotiated pay scale (replaced with whatever a given school board wants to pay)
Clear guidelines on where you work (and for how long)
A voice in setting the school-year calendar
And these are just a few of the things we often take for granted that would NOT be around today if MEA hadn’t been around in the past.
So ask yourself what have YOU done to turn the tide of anti-teacher sentiment in this state? How many phone calls have you made? How many letters have you sent? How many petitions have you signed? How many rallies have you attended? How much time or money have you given to MEA-PAC? How many positive public relations events have you attended? How many neighbors, relatives, parents and friends have you talked to about what Lansing is doing?
When you write that check to the PEA for your annual dues (yes, some day soon you will probably be writing checks instead of having payroll deductions) think about how together, the unified membership of the PEA and MEA can and will make a difference. We make a difference every day for our students. We can also make a difference in the politics of this state — but only if we are willing to face up to the challenge of this unpleasant reality.