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On Point

Not a Member? I Don't Get It

By Christel Coman

Combine some tables, banners and leaflets with “the latest” in recruiting techniques. Strategize just the right spot to select at new teacher orientation. Then add in the face-to-face conversations and spectacular member benefits bulletin boards and you have it—the big fall membership push for our local and state associations. At the heart of this effort is this basic premise: we need to convince others to join.

This may sound ridiculously simplistic, but I just don’t get it. Convince others? Maybe our new banners next year should say “Convince Me” instead. I’m bewildered by those who don’t see the importance of membership and who don’t understand why we think it’s essential. I get the financial reasons, and it’s in no way my intent to minimize the strain that many in public education are experiencing. Many are surviving from paycheck to paycheck. Oddly enough, though, these are the people who would join if they could, and usually apologize for having to give up their membership.

I’m talking about those who walk past all the information and say “not for me.” Perhaps it’s a regional issue. When I became a teacher up North and got my first job, the very next step was to join the education association. It was a natural progression – like Monopoly, where you pass go and collect $200. There wasn’t a lot of discussion or persuasion involved. In fact, there wasn’t really any. No one would think of working with children in any capacity without being a member. That’s just the way it was. It would seem that in today’s world of education, association membership would be expected of all in the profession. The association is your local, state and national Professional Learning Community.

But they still say “no.” So I still need convincing. Someone needs to explain, in depth, why you would walk into a classroom all alone. I need to understand a world where it’s okay to work with children and do it all alone. There isn’t anyone in education who can’t cite difficult – and sometimes threatening – situations they’ve encountered with families. Why would any of us want to face that alone? Thankfully, many of us can relate strong, positive experiences with administrators, but there are many who cannot. This is no knock against administrators. Many are supportive and are vocal members of their local education associations. Conflict is just something that can happen when some are in a supervisory position over others. It might just be that personalities clash. Nevertheless, why would you want to face this all alone?

Part of what we do is to serve as advocates for our students. What about those who do the honorable thing and take an unpopular stand, yet choose to do it all alone? How do they sleep at night? When you go it alone, you take the risk that you quite possibly won’t be there the next time students really need you. I doubt there is anyone reading this who can’t name someone (or are that someone) who’s been in this situation. Why would you not want to know there is someone behind you?

I’m not saying being a member of your education association guarantees continued employment. We saw the controversy over continuing contracts play out in the 2012 General Assembly – and it will be back in 2013. One of the arguments made to abolish continuing contracts was that teachers could never lose their jobs. Get over it. You can and you should, if you’re not where you should be and doing what you should be doing. It’s as simple as that. That’s not what the fight is about. What the focus must be is protecting due process and our rights to have a set procedure followed – and followed the same for everyone, no matter what the circumstances. Our Professional Learning Community demands that we become an integral and collaborative part of all decision making. Convince me you can lobby for this alone.

I want to know that when I take the “unpopular” stand because it’s the right thing to do for my student, there’s someone I can call if it’s not well received. I want to know that there is someone standing next to me who knows the inner workings of the educational system and the players involved. I’m not interested in dialing some 800 number for some company that puts me on hold and might know only a little about what I’m facing. I want to know that someone is lobbying for my life as a public educator, even if I don’t always agree with all of their political ideas.

And I want educators who don’t see membership as important to convince me that the right thing to do is go it alone.

Coman is president of the Campbell County Education Association.


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