The Union Loves Me … Or Loves Me Not?

It’s a good thing Mr. Chips is dead … ’cause he’d die all over again if he saw this mess.

I left the classroom a decade ago … said good-bye to a school that blended innovative and classical ingredients effortlessly.

It prized creativity … encouraged teachers to style themselves uniquely … then matched students to their specialness.

It was a perfect fit.


It was a career with sensational opportunities … crowded with sensational colleagues. I loved it.

But I don’t miss it … and here’s why.

Schools should be expected to change … but not at hyper-speed … because there’s a world of difference between thoughtful innovation and reckless transformation.

Ideological opportunists have seized the moment and disordered the infrastructure of public education. It’s now an American institution hell-bent on self-destruction …  careening toward institutional suicide.

Teacher unions have shed their teacher-centered concerns for more political and ideological fascinations. They’ve changed both their mission … and the face of education. And they forgot to tell lots of teachers … and lots of parents. 


I’m reluctant to bash my union because it served me so well. It protected my position when it needed protecting … and bargained for advantages that still make my life more comfortable. And it saw to my security even after I left the classroom behind.

My local union struck a very fair bargain between me and the folks who paid my salary and loaned me their kids.

I was charged to educate their young ones … and I charged them fair compensation in return. And like many professionals, I fell in love with the whole scene. I built my life around being a teacher.

I asked my union to look after me … the guy in the room … and they did. They crafted most of those agreements … and my state affiliate did some heavy lifting, too.

I paid my dues … and thanked those who did some pretty thankless jobs on my behalf. They did great things for teachers … and children … and the communities we serviced. It was easy to be proud … easy to wear that profession with dignity and pride.

I lived in an impressive high school with spectacular kids … for more than three decades. I taught freshmen and seniors. My creativity was let off the leash. I watched girls become ladies … and boys become men. I saw guessers mature into thinkers, scribblers butterfly into writers, and worriers turn confident. 


I formed important bonds … some of which continue to this day. They told me things they told no one else. Mined me for knowledge and advice. And together … we ironed out issues … big and small. And our lives got knotted. Sweetly tangled.

I saw them come into my life …. and then leave me behind.

And that ouched me.  

But that, too, was part of the bargain. And so I have this melancholy smile … and a trunk of sweet memories.


But then there’s that other stuff.

That union stuff. That’s changed. A lot. 

“AFT to Sponsor Second Round of ‘Sanctuary Campus’ Protests” … 

“Teacher Unions Smarting After Many Members Vote for Trump” …

“NJ Teachers Union President Will ‘Bend the Truth,’ Cover Up Child Abuse in Schools, Protects Drug-Using, Shoplifting Teachers” …

“American Federation of Teachers Union Spends $37 Million on Politics” … 

“AFT, Other Groups Call on Trump to Denounce Hate” …

Those are real-deal headlines! But they only hint at the scope of the madness.

These jangling times supply new arrogance to those who insist on the superiority of their own biases … and who demand that everyone join their jaundiced jamboree under their perverted sense of tolerance and justice.

Spare me

There’s the America-bashing …  indicting this nation for this and that … while ignoring our most noble moments here and on the world stage. Lumping America in with the most repulsive nations on the planet as a pathetic put-down that demands some embarrassing penance.

That’s an ugly face for this profession. A cheap, public veneer that’s bound to make as many enemies as it does supporters. 

The AFT … the American Federation of Teachers … is one of my unions.  But those aren’t my politics. Those are their politics. And it doesn’t jive with my even-handed philosophy of education.

But it’s pretty much what they seem most interested in nowadays …  skittish politics and scratchy social justice issues.

They pay less and less attention to the teachers behind the classroom doors … the folks who cough-up their dues. That’s the money the union hot-shots use to play politics …  win pals … and fight for causes that might not even be in the best interest of teachers.



Of course, some teachers do color their professional lives with activism.  I never did that. I never thought that was right. Or ethical. Or healthy for kids. 

But some teachers have been exposed … and embarrassed … for bashing the Marine Corps as a career of last resort … or kneeling for the National Anthem in front of impressionable middle schoolers to showcase their edgy politics … or subtlety mocking the president in a simple vocabulary exercise.

Trump Fill-In Page

Most teachers are much more mature.  They leave their personal politics on the school steps every morning … and focus on their professional commitment to educate youngsters.  

But now …  now they’re getting churned over by lousy reforms, lousy politicians, and lousy union leadership that’s encouraged lots of classroom madness … and they can see the ceiling sagging.

“As I have written before, the taxpayer is the bagman for the teachers union, whose dues are deducted by the local school district from a teacher’s monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. Then the school district turns the money over to the local teachers union. And we all get to pay for this service. Yup, the teachers union, a private organization, doesn’t pay a penny for the transactions.”

Dues money piles up in union coffers. The big-wigs love the spotlight more than the classroom they fled. They set headline-grabbing policies, make noisy pronouncements, and choose predictable political sides. And they seldom peek behind the classroom door.

Teachers notice this. They feel abandoned. Forgotten.

But it won’t go on forever.

There’s always the “too, too” moment … when enough becomes too much. 

The classroom pros just do their job … and seem more and more ignored. They’re good, good people … real-deal pros. But the issues that concern them matter less and less to those at the top.

So the classroom teachers take the hits for the decisions made beyond their control …  because they’re the face of teaching.

Most have their heads down … doing the teacher thing …  just as you do your thing. They’re weathering dreadful reforms and awful politics …  looking out for the kids … and trying like hell to hold on to the security that holds their lives and families together. Just like you do.

I get that. I hope you get that.

And I hope you see their rock and hard place.

And I hope you understand that lots and lots of very magnificent teachers are not on board with much of this social justice junk. Or any other political stuff. 

They just show up … Every. Single. Day. … and do what’s best for kids. Because they’re pros. Master-teachers who honor their profession. And who adore your kids.

There’s lots more to say,  but I’ll leave it here … with classroom teachers in the spotlight … where they belong. 


They’re more important than any camera-mugging, politician-snuggling union bigwig.

Please don’t make them handy scapegoats for the mess made by others. Their lives are just as cadenced as yours. Just as routined. They just happen to spend their days down the road … in the schools you finance. 

That’s where they live their lives … setting dreams in motion. And getting tangled up in the lives of your children. 

Until they get ouched.

Denis Ian


p.s. The Janus ruling came down from the Supreme Court. Unions will have some deep thinking to do … or face difficulties with member upset by the overwhelming political bias of the union leadership.

Read on …

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