I joined the union when I started teaching in 1995. It just seemed like the expected thing to do. But after a few years of the harsh realities of inner-city schools, I became jaded. A teacher around the corner regularly slept through his classes while his students wandered the halls. This was what the union was protecting? I wanted no part of it.
Last year, when my state passed a tenure-reform bill, the union fought it tooth and nail. I found myself in a passionate discussion with another teacher who vehemently opposed the bill. "Why are you worried? This is not going to threaten you, you're a good teacher!" I tried to assure her. Despite being politically moderate, I had come to view unions as most Republicans do: the protectors of the status quo, more interested in negotiating salary and benefit increases than upholding high standards for its members. But that was last year.
This year, I am back teaching a core subject (read: evaluated by standardized testing) and being asked to use a curriculum which blatantly teaches to the test. I received what I felt was an unnecessarily harsh evaluation (oddly, the harshest in my career, despite the fact that I'd worked coaching other teachers just the previous year...) and yep, you guessed it: I was back in the union.
I cried for the teachers in Wisconsin last night. I stand in solidarity with them. But I can't help but feel as though we saw this coming; we can't be content with the status quo. We DO need to reform tenure. Not based on meaningless test scores, but on more qualitative data. We need to lead the fight to improve our schools, to elect leaders who will fight the real enemy - child poverty. Let's take back teaching and reinvent the unions. The consequences are too dire if we don't.