Why do teachers “identify” with their unions?

Yesterday I wrote an article describing how the teachers’ unions have affected practice — directly and indirectly, negatively and positively — simply by what they choose to advocate and/or include in collective agreements.

Unfortunately, as a result of that article and follow-up comments, I also discovered another teacher-union negative effect — namely, that classroom teachers are now so personally linked to their unions that they see criticism about what their unions do or have done as criticism of themselves.

Not good. Linked in that way puts them in a type of symbiotic relationship (in the psychiatric sense), a relationship the union could clearly exploit. Moreover, it would have the desired result that the rank and file do exactly what they are told, no questions asked. 

Which goes a long way towards explaining why so few educators dare to speak out — even when they are retired. It’s not the professional ethics we were taught. It’s the fear of being shunned by colleagues and their union masters. 

As such, when they visit here, all too often they resort to minimizing what I write that questions their assumptions about their unions and in the case of yesterday’s post, to not deal with what I actually wrote. 

The reality is that teachers are teachers. They are not their unions. As such, they need to allow for informed and reasoned criticism about what their unions do — without taking it personally.

10 thoughts on “Why do teachers “identify” with their unions?

  1. Teachers have been incredible supporters of their unions since 1919 but the real jump in teachers support for the union took place during the Harris years. People tend to develop an incredible bond when they are attacked furociously from the outside. The more they are attcked from people who really don’t understand their jobs, the more they are unified behind their unions, the only force they can really count on when the chips are down.

    They have been attacked by all three parties so they have very little faith in any party. This leaves the union. This is the place where the raises come from, the benefits come from, the pensions come from etc. This makes people very united behind their unions.


  2. Doug — Teachers were NOT attacked by the Harris gov’t. I worked in that gov’t for an MPP who was also the PA for the Education Minister. I know they were not attacked.

    What happened was the minute they were elected the unions started their campaign. I remember seeing the faxes and not believing my eyes. They were exaggerations in the extreme. The gov’t was going to replace the public system with charter schools. The gov’t was going to lay off 10,000 teachers. The gov’t was going to destroy public education.

    At first I ignored it. Surely, the rank and file wouldn’t believe the nonsense. Well, they did. Then, when Snobelen made the “create a crisis”comment they went bananas. I have studied leadership. The create a crisis is in every textbook about creating an environment for change. That’s all that was.

    No, the ONLY things the Harris gov’t said it would do and did was: replace the primary curriculum, put in place some kind of teacher testing/pd record keeping and set up the college of teachers. While they didn’t do testing, other than for new graduates, they did do credits for PD. And, what was wrong with any of those things pray tell?

    No, the unions started the anti-Harris campaign. I actually remember being at a high level meeting with my boss and the subject came up. Mr. Harris did not believe the teachers or the public would buy the union hysteria. He regretted later not getting out in front of that anti-message.

    So, don’t give me anything about the unions and teachers being attacked. It was the unions who were doing the attacking. And, given you just repeated the same message, they are still believing their own hysteria.

    But, teachers also find out very quickly when they speak out, or disagree with anything the union recommends, whose side the unions are really on — their own!


  3. Oh, and no the Harris gov’t was not going to destroy the public education system. In fact, not only did they not lose 10,000 jobs, they GAINED 10,000 jobs. While they would have liked to do a pilot test for a charter school, they had no intention of replacing the public system. I have no idea where all that came from. It certainly wasn’t in the CSR. I knew that document by heart and still have a copy.

    No, the socalled struggle was because the gov’t wanted to make a few changes and add the OCT.

    I am certainly glad I was on the inside during that time and on a caucus committee with my boss because I know the truth on that subject and I simply won’t let the exaggerations go by without following with reality.

    The other thing is that the public was fed up then and is fed up now with the whining. Teachers are not the only people who work hard!! Yes, they have challenging jobs. I know, I did the job, having taught at both the elem and secondary levels. But, with all the prep they get now, they are so much better off then we were. Yes, social problems are much more difficult in this day and age. But, so is being an emergency nurse, a firefighter, a cop and EMS worker.


  4. I keep thinking of things. The bottom line for me is I went into teaching late in my twenties and I was so happy doing the job. After working in the private sector, I appreciated the pay and benefits. I took nothing for granted. I had no sense of entitlement. That is what ticks people off today. It is one of the best jobs there is out there, a great pension, and three months off each year.

    Yes, I know people work on their master’s degrees. I taught in two graduate programs. But, the feeling of being hard done by and entitlement is ruining the image the public used to have of teachers. It’s no longer a chosen vocation and there’s the pity.

    Calling it a day now.


  5. You have a short memory Sandy, do you remember the infamous “clock ad adding 20 minutes to the day and the attack on prep time. Teachers, al eachers, not just teachers unions found that to be outragous. Do you remember Jim Flaherty’s tax credit for private schools? Another outrage to teachers. Do remember Bill 160 and a general strike by teachers? Do you remember principals and vps ripped out of the unions? Teachers naturally hated teacher testing and they hate the OCT to this day. They are forced, to add insult to injury, to finance a college they hate. They have nothing but contempt for the OTC to this day. The EQAO? Don’t even get them started. I have never seen them as angry as that. I was there in Maple Leaf Gardens. The create a crisis comment did set off a firestorm in the teacher community. They literally hated this government and that viseral hatred for all things Tory remains very strong today.


  6. Well Doug, that is most unfortunate because all professions have had to accommodate change. That all things Harris hatred is misplaced in my opinion, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree. The OCT came out of the NDP Commission on Learning. So, did the EQAO.

    Do I remember Bill 160? You bet I do. I had to read it cover to cover and wrote an analysis of it that was published under my bosses name. There was absolutely nothing in it to cause the hysteria that followed as it was primarily about governance, amalgamating boards of education and boundaries.

    Yet, when I think of what the McGuinty gov’t is doing to the system as a whole now, particularly with its watered down curriculum and no-fail policy, there probably is hatred towards the Liberals too. In other words, name me one party that the teachers are okay with. When the unions get their own way and everything is status quo, fine, but anything, I repeat anything, that is seen as a threat….

    The tax credit was a wonderful thing for thousands upon thousands of Ontarians who choose to send their kids to private schools. It had to effect on public teachers. These were kids that were already in private schools. The notion that parents would pull their kids out of a public school because of a tax credit is ludicrous. Remember too, that those parents still have to pay taxes for the public and separate systems.

    My goodness, but you and teachers today seem threatened by everything and anything that provides choice, be it health care, education or whatever. Sad really. Choice keeps everyone on their toes. Private schools only exist because the public system is not doing its job as far as academic excellence and competition. Private schools either measure up or they lose customers. I wonder how many parents would keep their kids in school if they had such choices? Ah, but therein lies the problem doesn’t it. Fear that the publicly funded system wouldn’t measure up.

    Well, I get private e-mails from a lot of rank and file teachers telling me to keep hollering because they agree with me but can’t say so publicly or even to other teachers. That says a lot more to me than what you say publicly.


  7. From the perspective of the teacher union, I do not speak for them of course but I have been deeply involved in their culture for many years, the following would be true.

    Fight to the death electorally financially, communication wise etc for the following.

    1) Not one nickel should ever go to private education in any form. It is a slippery slope to total privatization.

    2) Never move backwards even one inch on contractual language. Do not give up one minute without compensation or you will soon be looking at hours.

    3) As Sean Connery explains to Elliot Ness in the Untouchables, “If they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue.”

    Teachers do not like the so called no-fail policy. We call it credit light. We have lobbied strenuously against it and gained major concessions. Teachers would be much harder on McGuinty except for one thing. The alternative is Hudak who to teachers really is Balsebub.

    If you ask teachers to rank the parties on a scale of 1-10 you would get the following result:

    NDP = 5, Liberals = 4, PCs = 0. I mean it. The other saying you hear often is “teachers have their heart in the NDP but their brain in the Liberals.” Job one for the Liberals? Keep the Tories out. The teachers keep the NDP on life support so the Liberals won’t take them for granted.


  8. There’s no reason to think that parents, apparently tickled pink with the status quo, would ever move en masse to a private school system. On the other hand, if they’re not overly pleased with the status quo they might…

    Unless there’s reason to fear parents having an alternative there’s nothing to be worried about. I suspect the claim that parents love things as they are is a little dubious.

    As it is now the current “stakeholders” have a captive audiences; folks who can’t afford to go elsewhere. Sweet.


  9. Teachers who are keen uniionists are no different than the union types anywhere else. Their top priority is what benefits their membership the most. If that also benefits kids that’s an added bonus but it certainmly isn’t the top priority.


  10. Doug — Given your last comment, is there any purpose for you commenting here other than to gloat and feel entitled to your entitlements? Time for you to move on. From now on I plan to write more about practical issues and curriculum approaches anyway — in other wordds, issues that are far less controversial. If that gets too much, I’ll simply quit blogging. Truth is I’m not getting any younger and have some health issues that I have to deal with.


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