I filled out the opinion survey as I often do, feeling that it is my obligation as a bleeding hearted liberal to voice my opinions on behalf of the struggling masses and the planet we have ignored for so long. When asked to define my positions, I tend to paint them as very strongly held. Even when the survey wants to tempt me with other viewpoints, or considerations, I hold tightly to my convictions. I understand that this is a test for me as much as it is for them. What if cleaning up the rivers and lakes and beaches ended up costing nine billion dollars instead of six billion, and we asked you to pay for it? What about then? Huh? So here's my response: It has to be paid for, eventually. The good news is that we can still do it while there is a price tag on it, rather than sacrificing an entire generation.
That last bit wasn't one of the check boxes. It was something that I thought, and since I have this place to sound off beyond clicking. Then it was time to finish up, and I was asked a final series of questions for "statistical purposes." Age, family income, and whether I consider myself to be a moderate, conservative or liberal, though the "bleeding heart" would probably only be discerned from my responses. Then I was asked if I was "a member of a labor union or a teacher's union."
I stopped clicking. Now I really did want to have a discussion with the people who wanted my opinions. The first part of that discussion would probably be about how I came to be part of a union. How I had been teaching at the school where I had been hired for about a month when one of my mentor teachers stopped by my classrooms after the kids had gone for the day and handed me a binder. "What's this?" I asked.
"Your contract," she told me. "You should read it. Get familiar with it."
"Will there be a quiz?" I made a little teacher joke. But at the time I did not have the full understanding that I had become a member of a union by signing on as a teacher for the Oakland Unified School District. A week or so later, I asked my mentor teacher if I had to be a union member to be a teacher. To which she replied, "Pretty much."
And so I have spent most of my twenty plus years with a mild ambivalence to this membership, sometimes finding myself at odds with decisions made by union leadership. Especially those that seemed to clash with what I understood my commitment to the community I was serving. I have held different positions when it came to work actions, trying hard to maintain that ideal in my heart and mind of being a public servant, while appreciating the protections that the union provided me. A couple years ago when there was a strike, I walked the picket line with the rest of my colleagues. Union members. We carried signs and chanted, and attended rallies and created food banks and strike funds to help defray the cost for those members who were struggling the most.
And I kept an ear to the ground when it came to the noises made by the families to whom I was connected.
It sure felt like being in a labor union. But I also understood that the rest of the world, including myself at times, had a hard time seeing the job I was doing on a continuum with ditch-digging or welding or coal mining. Was teaching really labor?
Well, after a month of being on strike, and listening to all the rhetoric from both sides of the fence, I was glad to be able to settle back into my job once again. To get back to work. To heal those divisions. The ones in my own mind, especially.
Am I a member of a labor union? Yes. And I am a teacher. Thanks for asking.