I was asked to write a piece for Contract Corner on why we need a union. Rather than reinvent the wheel (and to save precious time), I decided to excerpt a speech I gave to the entire staff a few years ago when I was BEU president. Here goes.…
“Brookline is a great school system, no one will dispute that, and you, all of you sitting here today are the core of that great system. You teachers, nurses and aides, you counselors, librarians and tech support, you specialists and administrators, all of you sitting here are the caretakers of an exceptional system, and you take care of that system by paying attention to each child that comes through these doors looking for you to do right by them, to do your best, to bring your best game each and every day. You do that day after day, year after year so well that the Brookline school system is known far and wide as a place any parent would be happy to send their child.
“You have a lot of expectations focused on you these days. You have to inspire creativity, enhance self-esteem, transfer knowledge, build character, increase test scores, recognize and help heal trauma, deflect bullying, upgrade your skills, be technologically savvy, inspire curiosity, develop critical thinking skills, calm fears, be a role model, pave the way to the future and do a host of other things that we’re reminded of on a daily basis. You’ll take care of the children wonderfully-but who will take care of you? That’s where your union comes in.
“Your union, the Brookline Educators Union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association, are here to help make sure that you educators can do your jobs well, to the best of your ability, in a work environment that respects your professionalism, your skills, your safety and your contracts. Your union not only allows but also encourages you to be part of the discussion on which way forward for public education in the years to come. Your union has never been more important than it is today when every pundit seems to want to try his or her hand at being an expert at education reform. But at the policy-making level, we’re rarely asked our opinion. So our unions sometimes have to insert our viewpoints into the discussion. It’s part of taking care of the children that we speak up strongly and forthrightly for what today’s classroom and curriculum and evaluations should look like, and it’s part of taking care of the caretaker that your union is there to preserve the integrity of the role of the public educator for now and for the future.
“How can a union take care of all of you? It would be nice if our union could give all of us certificates to health spas and restaurants or do our shopping or pick up our kids for us. But as nice as that sounds, that’s not really what we need unions for. We need unions to speak in a unified voice for what is right for educators from the smallest detail like protecting your prep periods to the largest concern like how to set a meaningful national education agenda.
“The union takes care of the caretakers, but what is the union? Well, we know for certain that the union includes some very dedicated individuals who give up their valuable time to make sure that your rights are protected. As important as they are, though, the bulk of the union is you. You are each a part of the bigger whole that makes us a strong unit with a resonant voice.”
-Jody Curran, BEU Grievance Co-chair