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Voices: Teachers not synonymous with unions

Tim Farmer, policy director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators, says teachers – union or not – have valuable perspectives on key issues facing the profession.

As a young member of the teachers’ union, I often felt as though the union did not represent my views and that they did very little to give every member a voice. The messaging was always very top down, and the attitude seemed to be “Get on board or get out of the way!” In their quest to appear unified, they discouraged dissent and neglected many of their member’s ideas and points of views, like mine.

If leaders are sincerely searching for the authentic teacher voice, it is important to first understand that teachers are not synonymous with unions. My experience as a teacher taught me that teachers are individual professionals with innovative ideas and unique opinions that, if listened to, would bring tremendous insight to the conversation about the future of our education system.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to work for the non-union Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), which is committed to giving a voice to all teachers, even those that have historically been silenced. Rather than relying on leaders to declare the opinion of the teachers, PACE asks the members themselves.

PACE continues to be the fastest growing teacher association in the state, and we believe one of the reasons is because we take the time to connect with our members and ask them what they think. A growing number of our member educators are responding to our annual survey, and leaders might be surprised to see what they are saying.

We hope you take the time read and share the complete PACE member survey report.

On the ever important topic of school finance, 92 percent of teachers support changing the current single count day method for counting students for funding purposes. Seventy-five percent of teachers support a “backpack funding” approach that directs student dollars to the school of each student’s choice and provides flexibility and transparency for spending at the school level.

When it comes to improving teacher licensure, 88 percent of teachers support a process that would automatically renew a teacher’s license if they are receiving “effective” evaluation ratings.

When asked about new pathways for professional advancement, 76 percent of teachers support creating a career ladder. Tired of the old model that encourages good teachers to leave the classroom and become administrators, teachers favor a new pathway that allows them stay in the classroom and earn levels of achievement with added responsibilities for each, as well as higher salaries.

Regarding transparency, 81 percent of teachers support open negotiations between unions and school boards so that everyone can be held accountable for their priorities. This topic was recently debated in Thompson School District. The school district and union decided to continue this process behind closed doors, but one wonders if anyone thought to survey the teachers?

PACE believes that teachers have many of the solutions to the problems that face our education system. Teachers are beginning to speak, and PACE hopes that policymakers are listening.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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