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Commentary: Freedom to Choose

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When educators go back to school in just a few days, they will have a choice in what teacher association they choose to join. We hope they will join Professional Educators of Tennessee.  As an independent, Tennessee -focused professional association, we keep our membership dues low by ensuring that our dues dollars are put to good use meeting the needs of our members, not supporting a national union.

In fact, our dues are so reasonable that you can cover the $189 cost simply by taking advantage of our various benefit programs.  Contrast that to the roughly $600 union members pay for less legal coverage and benefits.  Educators are also consumers and should expect quality services at an affordable price. You won’t have to look for the fine-print on our application just to see what you are joining.  Many Tennessee educators dislike the concept of forced “unified dues” and are opposed to the militancy of teacher unions’ nationwide (See NEA and AFT websites for your own comparison).

Unions continue to put roadblocks in place to prevent their members from exercising their freedom of association. Often they will use any legal means at their disposal to combat members who want to resign. Take, for example, the difficulty in terminating automatic drafts to pay membership dues. Unions often place a narrow window of opportunity for employees to drop union membership and escape the requirement of paying union dues or fees. For educators, that date may be limited to summer months and are designed to be inconveniently timed for members. In addition, unions blatantly will contribute to political candidates.  Make sure you read the fine print of the membership form prior to joining even though the fine print is so small you can barely read it. Our membership form is here for comparison.

You will find that our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, is NOT engaged in aggressive political partisanship. We are NOT involved in a wide-ranging social agenda on issues unrelated to education. We leave that to our union friends.  We do NOT file frivolous lawsuits.  You will never hear us brag about political contributions to play politics in Nashville, or any other city.  We do NOT endorse political candidates, nor do we use our member’s dues for political contributions.  Most teachers, either on the left or the right, do not chose education as a career choice because they enjoy politics.  They just want to teach while leaving political pursuits to their personal lives, not their professional ones.  That is one of the major reasons we have become the fastest-growing education association in Tennessee, and we are trusted by both sides of the political aisle.

ProEd has been around since 1979, but we were largely limited by state laws that favored the teacher’s union. Strikes and boycotts are detrimental to students and to the reputation of teachers as professionals.  Educators understand they are not “labor,” they are a professional and deserve to be treated with the respect that demands.  That is why educators, administrators and school personnel should unite with a professional association.  That distinction guides the professional image we project on our member’s behalf across the state, as well as the services we provide to our members.  We are proud of being a professional organization whose members come from all aspects of the educational systems in our state.

In addition to excellent legal protection, professional learning, networking and career resources, along with opportunities for leadership, there is no doubt that joining a professional organization that benefits educators. Our advocacy efforts carry significant weight with legislators, and other policymakers. We choose to collaborate, not separate, which is a natural choice for a group that is member-owned and member-driven.

No matter how good an educator is, or how great a district is, it only takes one incident, one new principal, or one angry parent to make an educator realize they need our support. Bad things happen to good educators every single day. Our in-house attorneys and statewide network of lawyers know education law and will always be there for you—whether you need us or not. No other educators’ association matches the protection offered by Professional Educators of Tennessee. Our Educators Professional Liability Insurance Policy includes up to $2 million in professional liability insurance.  Access to our legal service benefits is never dependent on the discretion and pre-approval of an organization executive. Access to your legal protection is not dependent upon whether your case is determined to be in the best interest of Professional Educators of Tennessee, as it is with some other organizations.

When you call our office you will talk to a licensed, experienced attorney who can assess your situation and recommend options. Your conversation is always protected by the attorney-client privilege.  That doesn’t happen when you speak to a “union rep” from another association, and we will never take action that you have not approved. Some join just for the insurance, and that’s fine. But you may be surprised at how frequently you will want to use our other services.

We are the first in Tennessee, and thus far only, teacher association to provide free online continuing professional education to our members, and many of those courses are TASL-accredited.   We regularly update our offerings to ensure our members have the latest information to help you in the classroom.  Through on-going professional learning, our members can enhance their competence and confidence, build leadership, which will lead to increases in student achievement.

Mickey Kaus, a blogger and the author of “The End of Equality,” and former Democratic candidate for U.S. senator from California, wrote:  “the answer of most union leaders to the failure of 1950s unionism has been more 1950s unionism.” That is what makes Professional Educators of Tennessee different.  We offer a modern approach to teacher representation, legal protection and unmatched educational advocacy, as well as promoting professionalism, collaboration and excellence without a partisan agenda.

Just like their students, every teacher is unique and has various reasons for wanting to join an organization. Even if you decide to join another organization, we feel it is important that every educator is a member of something. We must all work together to make Tennessee a better place for students to learn and for teachers to teach.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.

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Copyright 2017 The Tennessee Star

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4 thoughts on “Commentary: Freedom to Choose

  1. Lynn Seifert

    As a former president of my county’s education association, I have a pretty good grasp of the difference between what PET offers versus the other folks and encourage my colleagues to think thoughtfully before making a choice. It wasn’t until I became an administrator that I realized the other folks portray all administrators as bad. Rather than encouraging thoughtful collaboration and working together, a ‘us vs. them’ mentality permeates their culture. I find this counterproductive. Money aside, it’s my experience that PET truly believes and supports all educators and strives for synergy within our profession.

    1. JC Bowman

      Thank you Lynn.

  2. Horatio Bunce

    “Educators understand they are not “labor,” they are a professional and deserve to be treated with the respect that demands.”

    JC, does that include paying Tennessee’s highest in the nation $400 professional privilege tax, simply for offering their services, whether they have a teaching job or not? That is the “respect” Tennessee shows professionals while crowing about being a “right to work” state.

    1. I agree you shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege just to work.

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