Yesterday, I was privileged to have the opportunity to attend the NYSUT RA (New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly). I was not there as a delegate, but rather as a visitor. This is my first time at a convention such as this. In many ways it was like all other conventions that I have attended; there were vendor tables, free pins, brochures and t-shirts. There were speakers and presentations, meetings and breakout sessions. The attendees were primarily members of NYSUT along with a few others from affiliated unions. This convention happens yearly to review and vote on amendments to the by-laws of the organization (about the NYSUT RA). What set this convention apart, however, in my opinion, were the people themselves.
This was a convention of teachers. Specifically, this was a gathering of teachers from across New York State who are playing an active role in their union. They were there because they are not only representing their local, but because they have chosen to take an active role in the organization that unites them with their colleagues. For the most part, they do not receive much, if any, financial benefit for taking on this responsibility. These men and women care deeply about the importance of being part of a union and what this means to them as teachers. They understand the political climate in New York State and know that our future as a society is intricately linked with having a strong Public Education system. This in turn, is linked to having a strong union which enables teachers to have fair working conditions, a living wage, and most importantly, a voice in the lives of the children we teach.
Becoming a more active member in the Union, is extremely important. For many years, teachers have enjoyed the benefits that have come from being a part of the union without actually seeing what their role in the union is. Many teachers just assume that the union is there when they need them, whether it be for negotiations or representation, but do not see what they can do for the organization. I say this because I was not an active member for many years. I took and took and did not give back (other than paying dues and a small amount to VOTE-COPE). I could not see how I could add value to the organization. That changed 2 years ago when I was asked to help. I now see that I was just waiting to be asked. And, it makes me wonder.... how many other members are just waiting to be asked?
So, I am asking you now. I am asking you to take an active role in your local and your statewide union. You have a voice and you need to use it, now more than ever. The union is not "us" (the members) and "them" (the officers). WE are the Union. That was demonstrated very clearly at the NYSUT RA. The union is only as strong as its members. Whether everyone agrees or disagrees on issues, what brings us together is the passion we share for teaching and learning, for a better life for our students and our families and for a society that educates all its children regardless of race, sex, ability or culture. If we do not start using our voices and exercise our voting privileges, we could likely see the end of the Public Education system in New York as we know it. We could see classrooms that are lead by "facilitators" (or TFA) rather than "educators". We could see the end of the ability to speak up for our students without fear of reprisal or retaliation. We could easily see the end our profession as we know it. I ask you now to become active and informed. Give some time of yourself for the greater good. Your colleagues, your union, and your children with thank you for it.