Advice to New Teachers: Know Your Union

Young, new teachers always have that fresh, energetic look in their eyes. Ten years from now they will look back and be amazed at how little they knew, and how difficult that first year of teaching was. As a new teacher, politics and unions were the farthest things from my mind when I got my first job. I felt like I won the lottery after I got the call that I was hired. Now that I am older, I realize I was about to begin a journey where experience was my best teacher, and the union would be my best friend.

I highly advise new teachers to join their union and go to the meetings. Apathy never helps any organization succeed, and you will be in the know as to who has filed grievances and what is being done to help them. You may have a similar problem that needs to be addressed. You will always learn something about your rights when you attend a meeting, and you will get to know the school staff, and make friends. Sometimes what you hear is an eye-opener.

Understand your contract and pay grade. It took me two years to figure out that I was a bachelor’s+20 on my first job. No one talked about teacher unions in graduate school, or what pay grades were. If you don’t understand your contract, ask someone who is active in the union to explain it to you. Set up a meeting. Highlight your contract and write your questions down ahead of time.

If you are an armed services veteran you have some advantages on the pay scale in Ohio. The Ohio Revised Code 3317.13 articulates your advantages. Discuss this at your interview. Never sign a contract unless the years you have served are included in your pay. That means new teachers who are veterans should never start at the bottom, and that includes women who have served. I was shocked that my first contract in Ohio did not include my veteran’s years in my pay, even though male colleagues were earning theirs.

As a new teacher, it never occurred to me I that could take a union representative into any meeting that was called by the principal or other administrators. You need a witness and someone to take notes in case someone gets nasty or abusive with you. If you think you are going to a friendly meeting, or having a friendly phone conversation and it does get ugly, simply say, “I no longer feel comfortable having this conversation, but will be happy to set up a new meeting when I can bring a union rep with me.” Believe me when I say, some administrators will take advantage of your youth, inexperience, and being caught off guard.

Finally, know the laws in your state and how you will be evaluated. The landscape is changing drastically on this one issue, alone.  Go to the ODE website to read about the new law. Your first year will be a busy one at any district, whether you have taught before or not, but make time to get to know the union politics in your district, go to meetings and listen to your union grapevine.  Remember, there is power in information and numbers.

By Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association

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