A World Without the UEA
Remarks given by UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh at the 2012 UEA Convention Opening Session
I find myself reflecting on what my 34 year teaching career would have looked like without the UEA. What follows is an attempt at painting the picture of where I would be right now if the Utah Education Association did not exist.
Back in the 70’s things were pretty good. I worked in Salt Lake City School District. We had a shared-governance written agreement, which valued the voice of the teacher, the administrators, and the parents.
The first rumblings of trouble came in the early 80’s when cuts to special education funding in my district resulted in the reduction of resource teachers. I was a new teacher. I would be the first to go. Thank goodness, the Salt Lake Teacher’s Association worked with the district and all of the resource teachers kept their jobs. If they were not there, I would have lost my job, perhaps worked in a different district, or left teaching entirely. UEA stood with me!
The end of the 80’s brought our Utah Governor telling teachers to, “Take an aspirin and go home to bed” as a result of our concerns over no legislative increase in our WPU. The UEA with the blessing of Superintendents staged a one-day rally where our very own Lily Eskelsen introduced us to her rendition of the Utah Teacher Blues in order for educators and the public to express our concerns. The result was an increase in the WPU allowing me to buy new textbooks. Would my students have had those textbooks if the UEA did not exist? I do not think so.
During the 90,’s UEA’s lobby team secured class-size reduction monies and instituted site-based decision making training to locals in answer to the legislation of Centennial Schools. I wonder how many students would have been in my classroom or if I would have had a voice in decisions affecting my students and classroom if UEA had not stepped up for me. UEA is the only advocate for teachers!
The new millennium brought forth a slew of federal mandates, pro-voucher legislation, anti-association, anti-teacher, anti-public education legislation, and a general disregard for the voice of the educator. I was involved in my classroom with my students. However, I knew that my UEA lobby team was fighting for my pupils, my classroom and my profession. UEA is the only advocate for teachers and often times the only advocate for public education! I know this from personal experience on Capitol Hill during the past two legislative sessions. There is no one to give a voice to the teachers except UEA.
When I look back on the last 34 years, without UEA the picture of my classroom today would look quite different. My class size has exponentially increased. I am an “at-will” employee with my pay and evaluation based entirely upon student test scores. My effectiveness ranking based upon those test scores is available for public viewing. Vouchers are the norm and all students suffer from an incredibly disparate and segregated system of schools. My district has given me a “take it or leave it” contract. I have no insurance coverage, no recourse to false accusations or negative job action and no retirement. The UEA was not there to advocate for my students or my voice.
Schools look very different, too. Charter schools abound, private schools receive public tax dollars, teacher salaries are minimal, test scores are the basis for measuring success and no one wants to enter the teaching profession. I have no one to advocate for my students or my profession on Capitol Hill so those who want to privatize our public schools and eliminate the voice of the education experts have succeeded.
These changes have created an educational environment based on competition between teachers. Our students suffer because the open sharing of lessons and best practices does not occur.
Considering this scenario, I am no longer a teacher. Many of my outstanding colleagues are no longer teachers as well. Who is left to educate our children? Who is left to fight for the child who has no advocate? Who is left to speak for those educators who are still in the trenches every single day doing so much with so little? The answer is simple; no one.
Now let’s look at our current reality. Because UEA has worked to build our relationships with policymakers, the Governor, School Boards, Superintendents, Parents, Administrators, and Coalitions, the conversation is changing. Folks want to engage in positive conversations and solution-oriented discussions. They are not interested in the blame game and anti-teacher and anti-association rhetoric. UEA is leading the way and giving voice to the teachers. We are changing the dynamics. We are changing perceptions.
To those who ask about the value of membership or what the UEA has done, I simply ask them to imagine their classrooms, their profession, and most importantly, our students without the Utah Education Association
Teachers fail to appreciate the unconscious, powerful, magnetic pull that we have when we join together with one voice. The UEA is like a choir. A choir, which is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one, all go silent or leave then all that will be left are the soloists. Do not let a loud few determine the nature of our sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes our song.
Reach out to one another member-to-member, member to non-member. Become activists and invite others to join with us. It is only through our collective voice that we will make a difference. Together, we will stand strong for our students, our profession, and public education.
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