This post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”
by Janella Hinds
UFT Special Representative
I came to the teaching profession by accident. On a brief detour from the career path I thought I was destined to follow, I took a position as a long term substitute at a large high school in Brooklyn. I have never looked back.
I grew up in a union household. I was raised with the beliefs that workers deserve to be treated like the professionals, that collective action is powerful, and that my voice matters. I must admit, however, that it was not until I signed that card and became a member of my union did I truly understand.
I joined the union on my first day as a Social Studies teacher in a large comprehensive high school in Brooklyn. During my first year, I learned how to teach my students the life skills required for their personal success and the content required for their academic progress. The work was hard — in and out of the classroom. But I survived that first year because of the union-identified mentor who taught me how to plan and deliver a lesson. I made it with the support of my buddy teacher and department colleagues, a group of outstanding teacher who shared diverse strategies and a wide range of activities designed to engage my students and prepare them for graduation. I grew under the facilitation of a teachers’ center coordinator who worked with me on my preps and after school to make my plans and my techniques as strong as they could be. With my union, in my school, I found a new home where I was protected, encouraged, and supported.
As I educated my students, I continued my professional and personal development in my union. It was my union that provided the courses I needed to meet certification requirements. It was my union that ensured my safety when I was assaulted by a student. And, it was my union that offered an arena for me to engage with other newer educators.
And now, I have the opportunity to continue to fight with my union — for quality public schools for all of New York City’s students, regardless of zip code, age, diagnosis, race, first language, gender, educational history, income, or any other demographic category; for a system that treats all of its stakeholders with respect and fairness; for access and opportunity for all of our children.
I support my union. I support the right of public school educators (not only teachers, but paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, school social workers and psychologists, and the other professionals who ensure that our students are able to learn) to belong to unions. I support my union because it is the constant in an environment of experimentation, fads, and rhetoric. And, I support my union because I am confident that it gave me all that I needed and much more that I wanted in order to become the educator and activist I am today.