We are at a critical crossroads on the path to much needed education reform. 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.
Likewise, we must also recognize that in order to drive 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 old industrial labor union representational model for teachers, one that is solely fixated on political power and collecting more dues, does not serve the needs of all educators in a modern workforce.
For years, educators have joined teachers’ unions thinking their money was going to advance their profession. Unfortunately, teacher labor unions in Louisiana have become more concerned with partisan politics and blocking reform than serving the needs of students. Not only is this harmful to our 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 Unfortunately, under an outdated union model wholly devoted to preserving the status quo, excellent teachers are not rewarded or given meaningful feedback, degreed professionals with a depth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 those just entering the workforce, are no longer buying in to the assembly line model that has plagued our system for years and are now fleeing the unions in record numbers.
In the wake of a rapidly changing profession and educational climate, we need to embrace truly 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.
In 1994, I founded the Association of American Educators (AAE) as a national alternative professional organization, not a competing labor union. In Louisiana, the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) has joined with the AAE to make Louisiana a better place for teachers to teach and children to learn. Like our founding Board members, A+PEL’s founders also believed that the teacher labor unions had lost their way and their focus on divisive elections and combating positive change have given teachers a bad reputation. Teachers are individuals with unique ideas and recommendations to bring to the policy table, not a mouthpiece for predetermined union agendas. A+PEL has created a culture that treats teachers as individuals and serves and empowers teachers who want to be part of the solutions in education policy in this great state.
By offering teachers needed benefits, including professional liability insurance and professional development, A+PEL is able to offer membership in an organization that is committed to the needs of both teachers and students. A+PEL does not spend a dime of member dues on partisan politics nor does it support controversial agendas unrelated to education. A+PEL is a member-driven organization committed to representing an authentic classroom teacher voice.
Former union President Bob Chase once remarked, “[NEA has] used our power to block uncomfortable changes, to protect the narrow interest of its members and not to advance the interests of students and schools.” The Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana has a far different mission and it’s high time we embrace true professionalism as an essential part of the education reform movement.
We often hear about the necessary reforms needed in Louisiana classrooms, but what we do not hear is that we need to overhaul the way our teacher workforce is organized. A+PEL is that change we need. Professional teachers should be represented and supported by a professional association, not a labor union.
Gary Beckner is the Executive Director and Founder of the Association of American Educators, the national partner of the Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL).