Join a Professional Association
Last week I attended the annual conference for the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE), the organization that sponsors this blog. In a few brief vacation days for me following the conference, I reflected on what professional associations, including AAEE, mean to educators.
For teachers, two large umbrella organizations sometimes referred to as unions are the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). You may already be a member of one of these organizations in order to have liability insurance for your student teaching. AFT is very open about being a union; it's an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Both represent teachers in collective bargaining in various parts of the country. That's only one of the benefits that these large organizations provide, of course.
Take a look, though, at organizations that are more specialized, that are discipline-specific or interest-specific. There are organizations for science teachers, for math teachers, for elementary teachers, and on and on. As a music teacher, I was a member of my state band and orchestra association, the state and national music educators association, and even a music adjudicators' association that was affiliated with the national organization overseeing state activities associations (that's a mouthful!).
These more specialized associations give you the opportunity to connect with professionals with similar interests across the country and the world. There are conferences, workshops, and webinars to help you with specifics related to the discipline. There are discounts on teaching materials in the discipline. Most importantly, there are members to help you and support you when you have questions or problems that you just need to ask someone about. AAEE is an organization that provides this kind of professional development and network for people like me who work with educators and education candidates.
You will find that you develop close relationships and connections with others in these smaller, more specific organizations much more easily than in large organizations, especially if you are an introvert like me. You can pick up the phone (okay, you probably don't actually pick up the phone anymore) and call one of your connections for quick help, answers, and support. This may be worth more to you than the more tangible benefits that organizations tout.
Everybody knows that teachers have limited income. All of us have to prioritize how we spend our money, and solicitations for membership come from organizations often. There are professional organizations for everything - even some things you probably cannot imagine. Pick one or two in fields that interest you, or in areas where you seek professional development, and join. And join now; membership is usually at a lower cost while you are a student. Happy networking!
Kent McAnally, Director of Career Services
Washburn University, Kansas