At the OEA Summer Academy and other events this summer, current education issues were addressed revealing many obstacles, like inadequate school funding, combative school boards, and evaluation systems that unfairly rate teachers based on student scores on high stakes tests. In discussions, people frequently said, “what’s OEA doing about this?” or “shouldn’t OEA be …?”
On their face, they may seem like reasonable questions, but here’s the problem with these comments.
When members ask what OEA is doing for them, it implies that OEA is an organization that provides a service for them in exchange for dues dollars. Certainly, OEA does provide services, like expertise in negotiations and labor disputes, as well as advocacy in political causes.
However, that is not the essence of the relationship between OEA members and the organization itself.
The “service model” is not OEA. OEA is not like a company that you hire to take care of your lawn, where you pay fees for mowing and fertilizing.
By asking the question, “What is OEA doing about this?” we unwittingly perpetuate the myth of OEA as being a mere handful of “union thugs” who take dues dollars to bully “their” agenda down people’s throats.
Only there is no “their” or “they” or “them.” It’s us. We are OEA.
OEA is a participatory organization where 121,000 plus members are actively engaged in the education causes that matter to them.
The number of OEA employees housed in the Broad Street Building in Columbus pales in comparison to the number of members in classrooms across the state. Who can truly have greater impact on education policy, OEA staff or educators across the state, talking to members of their communities, lobbying legislators and collaborating with administrators?
We educators have the ability to shape the policy and direction of OEA. I was reminded of this as I watched a debate unfold on my Facebook page last week. One teacher friend was lamenting about OEA’s stance on Common Core. Another friend chimed in that it was OEA members who voted last spring at the OEA Representative Assembly to adopt a New Business item supporting Common Core.
If we don’t like the OEA stance on Common Core, we can’t be upset with OEA without being upset at ourselves. Each local has the opportunity to send delegates to the Representative Assembly, yet how many sent none? Each delegate has the opportunity to speak on New Business items, yet how many said nothing about this issue?
We are OEA.
We have to make the commitment to get involved, to organize and to lead if we want to impact public education.
We can’t pay dues and wash our hands of education advocacy. We can’t make excuses about all the other priorities in our lives that come first. We have to change our concept of our relationship with OEA.
As educators, we are willing to step out of our classrooms and impact our schools. We sacrifice our time to chaperone dances, mentor students, provide extra help during our lunches and meet with parents after school. Why should we be unwilling to give the same time and energy to public education causes through OEA? Standing up for public education causes benefits not just the one student you tutor during your lunch; it benefits all students and educators.
As we start the 2013-14 school year, make some “New School Year Resolutions.” Resolve to be a building rep. Resolve to be on a committee at your local level. Resolve to attend the Representative Assembly. Resolve to stop thinking of OEA as “Ohio Education Association,” but instead as “Our Education Association.”
Public education is changing and, in many ways, not for the better. We can either, wring our hands and worry what OEA is doing to solve things, or we can get in the trenches and fight, as part of OEA.
I hope you choose the latter.
By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association