This is a dangerous time to be a teacher. Each of us needs an organization that looks out for us — and, here in Arkansas, we have one. It’s the AEA (Arkansas Education Association). I’ve been a member for years, and can’t imagine going back to school without my AEA membership, and the protection it offers. The easiest way to join is at this page: https://www.aeaonline.org/join/.
The Arkansas Education Association is the oldest, largest, most effective, and most well-established professional organization (and union) for educators in Arkansas. I’ve been a member for years, and will explain why, below. First, though, here are three ways to join:
- A local affiliate of the AEA exists in every school district in Arkansas. My local is called PACT, the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers. In the nearby Little Rock School District, the local AEA affiliate is the LREA: the Little Rock Education Association. If you know members at your local, ask them to put you in touch with the teacher at your school who serves as the Representative, or “Rep,” for your school. You can then simply ask your Rep for a membership form, fill it out, and return it to them. The Rep will take it from there.
- A second way to join is through the AEA’s website, at http://www.aeaonline.org/how-join. This involves filling out and printing a paper form, and then mailing it to the AEA’s office in Little Rock, using the address at that website.
- There’s also a third way, and it doesn’t require paper forms, nor postage stamps. You can join our national organization, the NEA, through their website, at https://ims.nea.org/JoinNea/, and this will automatically make you a member of your state and local affiliate at the same time. Also, this works for educators and support staff in other American states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as well — unlike items #1 and 2 above.
So . . . why join these affiliated local, state, and national organizations? Well, first, let me give you some idea what it costs to be a member. I pay dues of $23.08, by paycheck deduction, twice a month, and that’s the total of my NEA, AEA, and PACT dues. (This amount will vary in other school districts, since each local sets their own dues.) In return, I have a network of people dedicated to (1) protecting my rights as a teacher, everywhere from my own classroom to Capitol Hill, (2) helping me develop professionally as a teacher (through collaboration with an extensive network of colleagues, as well as formal, for-credit Professional Development opportunities), and (3) being ready to come to my legal defense, should I need such assistance.
It is important to remember that a teacher can do absolutely nothing wrong, and still end up in a situation where such assistance is needed — to defend yourself against a false accusation, for example. I’ve been falsely accused of unethical conduct, via an anonymous complaint, in the past; it isn’t a fun situation. Because I was already a PACT/AEA/NEA member, help was provided at no extra cost, and my name was fully cleared. Had I not been a member, I might have had to hire an attorney in that situation — if affording one was possible, but it wasn’t. Few teachers have tens of thousands of dollars on hand to privately hire an attorney, should such a need arise in connection with their jobs, and I was no exception — but union membership takes care of that, if (and only if) you are already a member when trouble strikes. If I consider the dues I pay, vs. what attorneys charge when hired by individuals, I realize the truth: union dues are one of the best bargains available — anywhere.
It is a sad reality that some (not all, but some) administrators have a nasty habit of bullying teachers. In fact, such bullying was exactly what drove me to join PACT/AEA/NEA in the first place. The bullying continued after I joined, so I then reported it to my local’s contacts, and the organization intervened to protect me — successfully. Later, I witnessed similar bullying, of my fellow teachers, by a different administrator, and that’s what prompted my move from being a dues-paying union member to being a much more active union member, and a building Representative as well. In that role, I had the privilege of intervening personally, to do my best to stop such adult-on-adult bullying, and enlisted the help of others, whenever such help was needed. Again, such efforts were successful, although our own confidentiality rules do not allow me to describe the specifics, for we carefully protect the privacy of our members. (Important side note: all of this bullying described above happened in schools other than the school where I currently teach. This is not a coincidence; I am at my current school on purpose, so that I can work with good administrators every day. When teachers are well-treated, as is the norm at my current school, we can do a much better job focusing on, and meeting, the educational needs of our students.)
This is what union members do: we help each other. We protect each other. We support each other. Until the miraculous day when every single person in management and administration suddenly begins behaving ethically, 100% of the time, unions will be needed, and our work will continue to be important. We protect the working environment in schools — and that same working environment is the learning environment for America’s children.
There are other, more dollars-and-cents-oriented reasons to join, as well. For example, through the NEA, I have a quarter-million-dollar life insurance policy which costs me only $32.73 per month — an excellent price. Shopping discounts exist in abundance. There even exist benefits which I haven’t even used yet, simply because there are so many.
Of all the benefits of membership, there is one, above all others, which makes the argument for membership most compelling to me, and that is related to the legal right of representation. For AEA members, the statement below is both vital, and true:
“An employee shall be entitled to and shall be offered the opportunity to have a witness or representative of the employee’s choice present during any disciplinary or grievance matter with any administrator.” This is an Arkansas state law (A.C.A. 6-17-210). Any time an administrator in my district breaks this law, by denying any PACT or PASS member’s request for representation, it is imperative that union leaders be informed of this illegal act, without delay. (One way to reach them is by calling the PACT/PASS office, at 501-374-4955, during business hours.) PACT is our teachers’ union, and PASS is our union for support staff. We work together, which is as it should be. (Those AEA members in other locals, in similar situations, should contact the corresponding leaders of their own locals.)
Union members have representation provided to them upon request, whenever the need for it exists, at no extra cost — for our dues, and the dues of our colleagues, have already paid for it. Those who are not members, by contrast, are at the mercy of the market to find representation, on their own — with no well-organized, powerful organization backing them up, as we have as AEA members. In my opinion, this seals the deal — if you work in an Arkansas school, you can’t afford not to join the AEA, for the benefit of representation, alone. As for the numerous other benefits, they simply make membership an even sweeter deal.
One last thing: should anyone who tries to join the AEA encounter any difficulties doing so, feel free to ask for my personal help, in a comment to this post — and I promise to make certain you get the help you need.