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Teachers Need a Professional Association

Note: While Rick is away, guest contributors from the Association of American Educators (AAE) will be writing entries this week.  AAE is a professional association for educators and the nation's largest non-union teachers' association (as well as the fastest-growing of its kind).  Today's guest blogger is Gary Beckner, the founder and president of the AAE. 

We are at a critical crossroads in our country as education reform has become a hot topic in today's headlines. Stakeholders from all walks of life and political stripes are beginning to understand that in order to compete in a global economy, we must focus on choice and technology to prepare our students for the future.

We must also recognize that in order to drive much-needed change in instruction, we must also reform how the teacher workforce is represented. Just as a one-size-fits-all system is not working for students, an industrial-style labor union does not serve the needs of all educators in a modern workforce.

For years, educators have joined teachers' unions thinking that the unions' money would advance their profession. Unfortunately, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers are more than willing to stand in the way of common-sense education reform for the sake of preserving their own monopoly. Not only is this harmful to America's students, but it also degrades the professionalism of one of the most revered career choices. 

We can all agree that an excellent teacher is the fundamental building block to a great education. Unfortunately, under an outdated model wholly devoted to preserving this hyper-political system, excellent teachers are not rewarded or given meaningful feedback, degreed professionals with a depth of experience are turned away from the classroom, and teachers searching for flexibility through technology or non-traditional schools are struggling to keep their schools open. Educators, especially younger educators, are no longer buying in to the assembly line model that has plagued our system for years and are now fleeing from the unions in record numbers.

In the wake of a rapidly changing profession and educational climate, we need to embrace professional associations for teachers as the wave of the future. Recognizing that teachers need both a voice in the reform dialogue and professional benefits, professional associations offer a modern approach to representation and advocacy and promise a new era of professionalism where teachers are given a proper seat at the table.

Founded in 1994 by a group of nationally recognized educators, the Association of American Educators (AAE) was created as an alternative professional organization, not a competing labor union. Our founding members believed that the teacher labor unions had lost their way by their focus on divisive elections and combating positive change, giving teachers a bad reputation. Teachers are individuals and professionals with ideas and recommendations to bring to the policy table, not a mouthpiece for partisan politics. It is this ethos that has led AAE to serve teachers who want to be part of the education policy solutions. 

By offering teachers needed benefits, including professional liability insurance and professional development, AAE is able to offer membership in an organization that is committed to the needs of both teachers and students. In contrast to the teacher labor unions, AAE does not spend a dime of member dues on partisan politics, nor do we support controversial agendas unrelated to education.  We are a member-driven organization committed to representing an authentic classroom teacher voice.

Former NEA President Bob Chase once remarked, "[NEA has] used our power to block uncomfortable changes, to protest the narrow interest of its members and not to advance the interests of student and schools."  The Association of American Educators has a far different mission, and it's high time that true professionalism is embraced as an essential part of the education reform movement. 

We often hear about the necessary reforms needed in American classrooms, but what we do not hear is that we need to overhaul the way our teacher workforce is organized. AAE is the change we need. Professional teachers should be represented and empowered by a professional association, not a labor union.

--Gary Beckner

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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