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To Join or Not to Join

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Teachers are invited to join many professional organizations. Should you join or not? Only you can answer that definitively, but here are a few thoughts I have.

The two largest general teacher organizations in the U.S. are the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Both these organizations are sometimes referred to as “unions” or “the union.” AFT is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and is, in fact, a union. Chances are that one of these organizations has a chapter in the district where you teach or will teach and represents local teachers in the collective bargaining process.

Both organizations have functions beyond representing you in the bargaining process. They are professional associations that generate policy statements on education issues, which are often in the news. They provide professional development activities for members. They lobby Congress and state legislatures for education interests. They generate and encourage research in the education field. They provide important benefits for members.

One of the most important benefits is liability insurance. It is critical that educators carry insurance to protect themselves in the event of litigation over some action or inaction in the line of duty. Such insurance is available individually through private companies but is usually less expensive through professional organization group plans. Membership may also entitle you to access to legal counsel through the organization, which also could be a real advantage over securing your own attorney.

Beyond the “unions,” there are hundreds of professional organizations for educators, usually centered on subject or grade level. Your challenge is to wade through them and decide which, if any, are worth investment of your resources. Many have excellent professional development opportunities, including conferences and workshops. Others may offer discounts on professional materials. I once belonged to a subject-centered organization that offered liability insurance much like that from NEA and AFT. Most offer the opportunity to network with your colleagues nationally and internationally.

How do you decide? Look carefully at what the organization offers. It may be hard to attach absolute dollar value to the benefits, but consider what they are worth to you. If you are still a student, you may be able to join for a reduced, often very small, membership fee to help you decide. Look for testimonials on the organizations’ websites; you will not see the downsides there, of course. Consider what your needs and interests are and which organizations might match them. Best of all, talk with your colleagues in the field about the organizations to which they belong and do not belong and why.

There are literally hundreds of education organizations recruiting teachers as members. Professional organizations are valuable for many reasons, and I encourage you to join those that provide the opportunities and resources that best meet your needs.

--Kent McAnally, Director
Washburn University Career Services, on behalf of AAEE

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