I can make a difference; my job depends on it.

I’ve been actively involved in my union now for almost a decade. My colleagues often ask me why. The response I give them is simple.

“As teachers, we are always the first to be asked for help by others,” I say. “Yet as professionals, we are the last to ask for help for ourselves. Our union helps us teach our students. It’s as simple as that.”

Speaking at a Lincoln Day breakfast in March of 2009, Gov. Strickland’s opponent said he would “break the backs of organized labor in the schools.” That concerns me.

Strickland’s opponent’s father was a postman and was a member of and represented by the National Association of Mail Carriers. As a child, Strickland’s opponent was fed and clothed by the wages his father earned, thanks to organized labor. Despite that fact, he wants to break the back of my union.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about that.

My colleagues and I knew that when we chose to become teachers that our decision would place the importance and development of young people first and foremost in our lives.

We recognized the fact that despite the magnitude of our chose profession, our starting salaries and lifetime earnings would be far less than our friends who sat next to us at our college graduation and went off into the business world.

But that didn’t matter.

We knew that we weren’t going be able to participate in profit-sharing plans, that there were no annual bonuses larger than our annual salaries or cushy corner offices with our name on it. People that have those jobs can write off their first-class travel, luxurious lunches and name-brand clothing on their tax returns as business expenses. My colleagues and I can’t even go to the bathroom when we need to.

Still, we press on.

As education professionals, we face many obstacles in achieving our goal of providing a great public education for every student in our classroom. Some of those obstacles come from the communities that surround our school. Other obstacles are generated from within; district or building-level administrators or policies that hamper our ability to educate our students.

And yet we continue.

My union, the Columbus Education Association, has helped to bring respect and equity to the profession which my more than 4,000 colleagues  have dedicated their lives to; preparing the next generation of children to assume a leadership role in our society. This is true in each of the many local unions that exist throughout the state and comprise the Ohio Education Association.

I am concerned that Gov. Strickland’s opponent wants to break the back of an organization that I have given years of my life to. I am worried that the support system for my colleagues will suffer needlessly because of the hidden agenda of the political aspirations of one individual. I am angered that my my professional organization is under attack by an individual that can’t even remember the name of the street he worked on.

At the 2010 National Education Association Representative Assembly in New Orleans, NEA President Van Roekel said “If we are not activists in politics, we will be the victims of politics.”

My President, Rhonda Johnson, delivered her “state of the union” speech at the first meeting of our Legislative Assembly in September to more than 200 attendees. She closed her address with a thought-provoking line.

“Teachers can make a difference in this election. You need to vote as if your job depends on it, because it does.”

I will make that difference; I know my job depends on it. I know you will too.

By Phil Hayes, Columbus Education Association

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