In what do you have confidence: those subjects you know well, or those subjects you’ve barely heard of? Surely you could explain how to plan a lesson, but could you explain your teaching contract? How would you rate your ability to explain that?
And should you be able to explain it? Does anybody even read those? If you teach in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City, your contract is hundreds of pages long!*
My theory is that teachers don’t dig out their contract and read it until something goes wrong; that’s when they may learn their union hasn’t made things easy for them. Usually, contracts have grievance procedures that involve 4 to 5 steps. None include the union providing you with a lawyer.* Surprised?
Teachers, I highly recommend your contract become a subject you know well – something you can be confident about. I’d like to hold teachers’ unions accountable to making teacher contracts user friendly. By that I mean not more than 50 pages, and accompanied by a chance to go over it and ask questions. Especially before you’re asked to vote for ratification.
When you accept a position in a school district with collective bargaining in place, you’re agreeing to abide by the contract negotiated between the school district and the teachers’ union. It dictates not just your salary and benefits, but grievance procedures. It dictates leaves, transfers, schedules, professional duties, evaluations and a host of other items.
Knowing your contract gives you a confident voice for communicating with your union what you feel is good about the contract, but also what you’d like to see change or improve.
You might be wondering what I’m wondering: Why are state laws in my contract? If they’re laws, why does the union insist they be in the contract? Why does the union continue to agree to such low pay for beginning teachers? Why does the union block attempts to financially recognize teachers who are doing an outstanding job?
And most of all, why are grievance procedures set up the way they are? I would feel much more confident if a lawyer were provided when I need to go talk with administration about a particular matter. Why is my friend and coworker expected to stick up for me to administration, and why should they? Won’t they be worried about how their own position could be affected? And besides, I don’t need my coworkers knowing my personal business matter. Where is the legal representation unions promise? These grievance procedures do not require the union to spend any money on lawyers. In the event of arbitration, the union pays half and the school district pays half.*
I hope you’ll take some time to know your contract. Knowledge brings confidence, ends the blind trust in state and nationally affiliated unions, and gives you a voice.
Empowered teachers know their own contract. Empowered teachers are confident.
*Most school district contracts are available online through district websites, and from researching these a similar pattern can be seen. This is to be expected when teachers’ unions are affiliated with the state and national levels, rather than being local only. Unaffiliated, local only unions would be much more effective at addressing local teacher concerns and tailoring the contract to the specific needs of that particular districts’ teachers.