Is the Education Union Good for Education?

education union

My personal view is the Education Union is great for teachers but poor for progress in education. I don’t like how the union have tried to bully me (a non-member) to sign up by refusing to represent my colleagues until I and other non-members paid the $500+ yearly membership. I also don’t like how they spend members money and are resistant to most proposed changes and innovations in education.

Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, makes the same point to the ABC’s Leigh Sales:

LEIGH SALES: How much of a barrier or otherwise have teachers’ unions been in countries that have undertaken major reforms?

AMANDA RIPLEY: A big barrier. I mean, this is one of the surprises, is that everywhere you go in the world, pretty much teachers’ unions are powerful, there are contracts in place that principals and school leaders complain about, there are real limits to the ability to dismiss a teacher for performance all over the world. So, you know, be that as it may, it is a challenge in every country.

It is important to mention that:

a. Teachers often require union support because their job is incredibly difficult and stressful

b. Unions play a positive role in teachers’ lives.

c. Assessing the performance of a teacher isn’t easy to do and often such an appraisal deserves to be contested vigorously.


Click on the link to read Guess What Percentage of Teachers Considered Quitting this Year

Click on the link to read The Classroom Shouldn’t be a War Zone for Our Teachers

Click on the link to read Remember When Teachers Were Shown Respect? (Video)

Click on the link to read If You Think Teaching is so Easy You Should Try it for Yourself

Click on the link to read Teachers are Extremely Vulnerable to False Accusations


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3 Responses to “Is the Education Union Good for Education?”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    How can a non member expect the union to represent them? Effective union membership works like this. You pay your dues. You attend as many meetings as you can and hold the union officials accountable.

    No union can take any form of action unless supported by a majority of members. If members do not exercise their democratic right to have a say and vote for or against any proposed union action they have no right to complain when action is taken or not taken according to their wishes. The union is not somebody else. It is the aggregation of members. The members are the union. The union is only as good as its members.

    Most of the teaching and learning conditions that have been built up over years of hard work on behalf of members and the students they serve, are gradually being eroded because people are not active in their union.

    Let me give an example. A highly competent and qualified colleague was bullied by a principal who called her efficiency into question. This resulted in her having a mental breakdown and taking stress leave. On no occasion was she proven to be inefficient or incompetent.

    When her leave expired she had lost all confidence in being treated fairly and had to be employed in another school. The level of music education in the new school immediately took a turn for the better because of her work which was highly appreciated by the new principal. Later this lady applied for a transfer. The new principal was unable to sign off on her application because she was employed there on a temporary, not substantive basis. The old principal could not sign off either because she was no longer on her staff. The director refused to take any action because her efficiency had been questioned and not resolved. Clearly this woman was being treated unjustly.

    At a monthly union meeting attended by a relieving organiser a motion was passed that the union make representation to the employer to normalise this teacher’s status. The organiser promised to take it up but did nothing. After about a fortnight I rang the general secretary of the union and explained the case to him. He assured me he was on to it and as good as his word, in less than a week the teacher in question was restored to the status she enjoyed before being bullied. Following this she was transferred to another school, not the first school, a third one, where she was assigned to a K/1 class. Immediately the standard of education of that class went up and she was highly appreciated by the new principal.

    That’s why unions are important. But the union is only as good as its members. This is important. United we stand. Divided we beg.

    • Michael G. Says:

      I appreciate your position John and love reading your comments. As a non-member I never wanted or expected to be rewarded with any of the privileges my member colleagues were able to obtain. But my colleagues weren’t given the special treatment they deserved because of a rule that obligated 80% (not a majority as you indicated) be signed up members for them to take on a school’s case. This is extremely destabilising for a staff room as it forces members to put pressure on non-members to sign up whether they could afford to or not. And I reiterate, I was happy to accept no financial gains for not being part of the union. Where in the fine print does it say become a member and as long as you get 80% of your colleagues to do the same we can look after you?

      As my post made clear I believe that unions are fantastic for its members, and I have heard of the good they have done for exploited teachers. I am still opposed to the bullying as well as their political alignment which includes using members money for political propaganda advertisement. Whilst I have no issue with the ALP, I believe that if the union represents what is for the best of education, they shouldn’t align themselves with any political party. Through this unsavory alignment they reject any good ideas from Liberal such as Principal autonomy and a overhaul of teacher training and they meekly accept horrendous policies such as the Billion dollar behemoth that is the MySchool website. Additionally, whether you agree with causes such as climate change or not, an education union has no business donating hard earned members money to such causes.

      As a longtime union member and a brilliant teacher, surely there were times when you felt that by looking after their members certain critical changes to education were not able to be implemented.

      • John Tapscott Says:

        There is so much misinformation surrounding issues such as this. You might be surprised to learn that the NSW Teachers Federation is not aligned or affiliated with any political party and has active members that support all sides of political opinion. I remember some highly active members, in official union positions, for example, who supported the Liberal/Country Party coalition as it was then. And I think it is self deception to think that conditions won by the actions of union members don’t equally benefit non-members.

        As for donations made by unions to other causes, if members don’t make their opinions felt and vote at meetings they are abdicating their rights and responsibilities as members. As for non members they have no right whatsoever to have a say over how the union uses members funds.

        As far as the MySchool website is concerned I couldn’t agree with you more but I am not aware that it has any support from the union either. This is one of the many pointless things foisted on the education community by governments of all persuasions.

        When a government wants to make changes, regardless of its political colour, it makes changes despite the protests of the union and its members. Not many such changes have led to improvements in the educational outcomes of students and in time they have been quietly allowed to die on the vine. One such change was known as “Quality Assurance”. It didn’t work not because of any kind of sabotage but because it was a good idea implemented in such a cackhanded manner as to make it unrecognisable as the brainchild of brilliant people such as W. Edwards Deming whose theories so inspired people like William Glasser and Ed Mamary. It didn’t work because the authorities failed to take on board the philosophy which underpinned the whole idea.

        I would never oppose any initiative designed to improve educational outcomes. When it comes to buy in it has been shown by research that people are influenced more by why something is done. The most successful changes with the best outcomes are accompanied by a period of inservice training and information leading to genuine discussion and eventual agreement. When changes are driven with urgency and haste people are put on their guard and are more likely to listen to the counter arguments than to those in the positive.

        Another forced change is the Australian Curriculum which has very little underpinning from what is known about child cognitive development. I am seeing increasing numbers of students who just don’t get it. Why not? Because they are being fed a diet for which they haven’t yet developed the cognitive structures to deal with; abstract concepts that are not available to children whose thinking skills are still in the concrete realm. Furthermore the pace has increased requiring more and more to be learned over a shorter period, with less time for consolidation and revision. It all points to me to a huge educational train wreck in the not too distant future.

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