You don’t have to follow education policy debates for long to notice that teachers’ unions invoke a wide range of opinions; they are admired by some, and abhorred by others. Although they are often portrayed as one big monolithic organization (“the teachers’ union”), there are in fact over ten thousand local teachers’ unions across the nation. All of them are led by teachers who are elected by teachers, their contracts are approved by teachers, and their policy advocacy tends to reflect the preferences of their members, who are teachers.
Given that the vast majority of U.S. students are educated in public schools, which are funded by tax dollars, it makes sense that public scrutiny of teachers’ unions tends to be more extensive than it is for, say, steel or auto worker unions. The leaders of teachers’ unions and their members understand (even welcome) this. Communicating with parents and the community is a big part of being a teacher. People are very serious about education, and rightfully so. Everyone should participate in the debate over how to run our schools. I dare say most teachers would agree that this debate, while sometimes overly contentious, has a net positive effect.
Yet all the debate about the effect of teachers’ unions often omits an interesting (and, perhaps, important) question: What do teachers think about this issue? You don’t have to agree with all policy stances taken by teachers’ unions; such disagreement is not “teacher bashing,” as is sometimes alleged. If, however, you respect teachers and their opinions about how to run schools, and if teachers tend to agree with their unions, then it makes sense at least to keep this in mind when expressing opinions about their unions.