Media coverage of trade unions – teaching or otherwise – might seem off-putting, but there are several important reasons why all teachers should at least consider joining one.
Forget portrayals of hectoring union chiefs urging strident teachers to take industrial action that affords them (yet another) day off from the classroom while hard-pressed parents struggle (yet again) to reconcile the conflicting demands of childcare and holding down a job. Union membership isn’t just about having the right to strike if the terms and conditions of the job become untenable. Arguably for many members the right to take industrial action doesn’t even feature among their reasons for joining, but the chances are that at least some of the reasons below might.
- Unions Put Teachers First
While individual schools may work very hard to retain their staff and create an environment where teachers feel valued and respected, no school can be relied upon to put the interests of its teachers first at all times. Schools must always balance the interests of staff with those of pupils and parents, all whilst adhering to current education policy. Clearly this is a process that frequently places unreasonable strain on teachers, yet it is difficult for individual teachers to counter the demands made by schools without earning a name as something of a troublemaker.
Unions, on the other hand, have the scope to observe what is happening in different schools across the country, to identify patterns and, if necessary, to intervene at a higher level and on a broader scale than any individual, allowing the individual to sidestep an individual crusade that might affect their future job prospects.
- Legal Support
For many teachers, the legal support provided by unions may be the single-most compelling reason for joining one. The legal advice, representation and help with fees that a union may offer in the event of legal proceedings or disciplinary action are invaluable. Although it’s not pleasant to contemplate the circumstances in which these services may be required, many teachers who have had cause to take advantage of them would vouch for the fact that they can be career-saving benefits.
- Continuing Professional Development
Unions routinely lay on a wide range of events and training courses to enable their members to update their skills and knowledge. As these may be organised on a national rather than regional basis, they can provide opportunities to network with members in other regions and to gain a fresh perspective on current issues in education.
- Sickness and Disability Support
Another key service is the unions’ support for members with disabilities, or those who become sick or are injured at work. Unions can help members negotiate a phased return to work or request adaptations to working conditions that will enable them to resume at least some of their teaching duties.
Union benefits also often include 24-hour counselling or advice services that can provide vital support during difficult times.
- Financial Benefits
Another perk is the range of financial benefits unions offer their members, including discounts on services, schemes providing cashback with certain retailers and specialist services and policies tailored to the specific needs of teachers.
Hopefully you’ll never have to take advantage of all the services offered by a union, but there’s a good chance at least some of them will come in handy at some point during your career – even if it’s simply saving a few pounds on a holiday or benefiting from an improvement in overall working conditions resulting from a union’s behind-the-scenes work.
And if the possibility of industrial action is really an insurmountable obstacle to your joining a union, there is now the option of joining a professional organisation for teachers that offers many of the benefits of a union but which does not support the right to strike.