Foster a climate that honors teacher choice

As students and teachers settle into a productive new school year, let’s renew our commitment to Idaho’s educators with the support they need to meet today’s challenges.  As a recently elected board member of Northwest Professional Educators (NWPE), I believe that we must foster a climate of mutual respect and engagement that honors teacher choice.

I first learned of Northwest Professional Educators at the ceremony celebrating my 2007 Milken Educator Award.  NWPE Director Cindy Omlin was there to honor my achievement and introduced me to the organization.  I was thrilled to learn that the association took a professional approach to education and I have embraced it wholeheartedly.   NWPE is a nonunion organization that not only advocates for teacher professionalism and student achievement, but it is working hard to raise the caliber of the dialogue among teachers in Idaho.

I think it is critical that more teachers learn about the nonunion teacher movement.  Too many teachers only join the union for liability insurance in case any unfortunate incidents arise in our classrooms. While NWPE also provides teachers with peace of mind with its $2 million in personal educator liability insurance and legal coverage for a host of workplace situations that threaten teachers, there is so much more to NWPE.

NWPE is constantly engaging teachers, connecting members and other stakeholders, and advancing our professionalism through a variety of resources such as regular updates on education reform, professional development opportunities, classroom resources for the modern educator, and its grant and scholarship program.  I appreciate how it doesn’t overlay a point of view upon its members.  Instead, NWPE surveys its members ensuring that the voice of the teacher in the trenches is amplified among the din of competing voices and powers which seek not what they can contribute, but what they can take from public schools.

Our members also appreciate that NWPE does not engage in partisan politics and does not contribute member dues to political organizations or advocate for issues unrelated to education.  This keeps member fees affordable at only $16.50 a month.  Because NWPE is nonpartisan, our members can focus on education instead of being put off by hot button issues that polarize.

After countless conversations spent around the water cooler and in my travels as an Idaho education leader, I know that countless teachers are looking for a less politically-charged option for teacher representation.  Mind you, NWPE does not oppose collective bargaining.  We support teacher choice in bargaining models including the “local only” teacher association that negotiates locally without the control, cost, and politics of IEA and NEA affiliation.  NWPE can empower educators interested in exploring how to effectively implement this model.

Last month, Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup released a survey that indicates that Americans overwhelmingly support teachers but not teachers unions.  The question has to be answered:  Why?  What is causing this fundamental disconnect between the public and teacher labor unions?   It is apparent that aggressive, highly politicized, industrial-style union representation is not advancing the respect that educators deserve in Idaho or nationwide.

Teachers are not blue-collar laborers; they are academic professionals like lawyers, scientists and engineers.  They deserve to be treated as individual professionals with ideas and experiences that can be brought to the policy table. To create and implement meaningful and commonsense education reform, the voices of independent Idaho educators must be heard.  But change is needed before this can happen.  Many Idaho school districts block teacher participation in union-alternative associations such as NWPE through a variety of obstructionist practices.  This is patently anti-democratic.

We need to empower teachers to not only have the tools they need to succeed but we need schools to give them the facts to make the choice for themselves on how to be represented.  Districts should be required to educate employees on the right to work law that is supposed to protect them from coercion, harassment and intimidation and provide them with information about both union and nonunion association options for professional support and protection.  Additionally, districts should be required to provide equal access for teacher associations in order to foster a vibrant, free marketplace of ideas.  If we refuse to model the principles we teach and demand of our students, we are nothing but hypocrites.

NWPE is leading the way to develop a school culture that promotes mutual respect and honors teachers’ freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to join or refrain from joining a union so that all educators’ voices are truly represented.  It is helping steward the teaching profession in a positive, professional direction.  That is why I happily join hands with other non-union teachers to elevate a movement that I know will be successful.

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