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Depends on where you look

Posted By: Ross Mitchell on November 27, 2001
From reading some recent studies, from my own experience as a public school teacher in the early- and mid-90s, and from discussing with my wife her experiences as a continuing public school teacher, I would say that there is generally a renewal of leadership in the teachers' unions. You won't find it everywhere, particularly where there is a perception that the "older" generation controls the union agenda, but unions are still viable and interesting for Gen X.

When I was in Texas, a state where unions are very weak, many of the younger teachers were signing the union drive cards. In California and Minnesota, the unions were strong, and it was the attitude of the leadership that tended to influence generational participation. Now in Maryland, I see the unions as quite strong and having a broad appeal.

The major disillusionment associated with the unions is that they are embedded in standard labor laws that do not allow for negotiating issues related to curriculum, instruction, or other "professional practice" matters. The concern for ethical, responsible, and innovative teaching is not included in collective bargaining agreements. It is hard for teachers to justify work actions because they cannot negotiate matters that demonstrate that "they are in it for the kids."

The other matter that turns away some teachers is that the unions' political activities may be viewed as offensive or in direct opposition to any given teacher's political position.

You have to remember, however, that "union life" can be both vigorous and lethargic. In general, very few teachers participate in union life regardless of their generation unless the union meets a specific social need or there is a clear need to press for new contractual negotiations on some point. As such, there will be Gen Xers who see the union as an appropriate vehicle for social and/or political life (possibly in the same way their parents did) regardless of its functional employment role, while others will take a strong interest in improving their conditions of employment.

I wish you the best of luck in determining how and to what extent Gen X is involved in "union life" and look forward to learning what you find.

Ross E. Mitchell
Gallaudet Research Institute
Gallaudet University
Thread Hierarchy
 Are teachers' unions appealing? by Julie Blair on November 7, 2001
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