What Are Teacher’s Unions? (by Guest Blogger Bradley Brown)

By using the example of our own Oregon Education Association (OEA), I’ll briefly explain the function of teachers unions in our education system.

OEA comprises more than 45,000 educators (teachers and specialists, community
college faculty, and retired teachers). They are in partnership with Local Associations, which
is an organization that champions the right of all students in Oregon to have a quality public

The current president of OEA is Gail Rasmussen, a veteran of the Eagle Point School
District. Her promotion to President marks the first time that an African-American woman has
held the position. The current vice-president is Johanna Vaandering, a former PE teacher from
the Beaverton School District.

OEA is affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA), the larger, more
inclusive teachers union.

The NEA’s main role is to protect teachers’ rights and pay. This has brought them some
criticism from people who think that they are more concerned with the teachers than with the
students. In the 2000s, they devoted much of their resources to lobbying for change in the No
Child Left Behind Act. They have generally supported candidates from the Democratic Party.
Despite receiving some negative press for their seemingly biased opinions, they counter by
saying that, on the whole, they agree with the left wing plans for education more than the right.

These days, teachers unions have been cast in a negative light. Strikes in Chicago have
brought the news closer to home, and much political controversy has been stirred because of it.


1. How do we make sure that teachers unions are truly concerned with the well-bring of the
students instead of the teachers’ job security?
2. Do you agree that teachers unions should have as substantial a role in politics as they do?
3. If it came down to it, would you support the teachers unions if they advocated for a strike
to protect their wages?


5 thoughts on “What Are Teacher’s Unions? (by Guest Blogger Bradley Brown)

  1. Bradley,
    I do feel that it is the union’s job to mainly care about its workers and their rights. Unfortunately, where the student’s rights for quality education comes into play with the union, I don’t know. I would support teachers unions if they did strike to protect their wages. We know from all of our work so far in class that the teachers have to meet with some lofty goals set by NCLB, as well as having their performance evaluated from student success. Their work they put in is hard, and they deserve what they get, and sometimes more over. Unions do have their place, but I’m not sure if that place is dealing with student’s rights for education. Parents are the student’s advocate and should do what they can to be heard, be well informed, and take an active role in their child’s education, and question the school if they feel the education isn’t up to their needs.

    • Lisa,
      You make an excellent point. Parents should be the main advocate for students’ rights. However, if the unions make decisions that adversely affect students, such as protecting the jobs of ineffectual teachers, whose responsibility is it to defend them? Teachers unions and parents of students shouldn’t be butting heads; they should be working together to improve the system for everyone.

  2. I do completely agree with you Lisa. I do think that parents should have a say in their students rights and how they learn and in what environment. I also would support teachers and the union to encourage raising their wages.

  3. Hey Bradley,

    Thanks for your post. I also agree with Lisa and Nicole that families having input on their child’s education is vitally important. I think that the constructive input is critical for schools so that they can see how the school’s mission of teaching students and teachers performing well extends to the home. I think that my family and I always had discussions about what I learned in school and how I felt being at school and that way my parents are in the loop. If a problem occurred, then they would know. I believe that at the end of the day, it is about the student’s life, our younger generations. I believe parents, teachers, or administrators should not point fingers towards each other to blame things about the union or other issues. I think if it came down to it, I would support teachers to not only keep on teaching but to make sure that what they put into the work of teaching students, they reap bigger rewards from not only the union, but beyond that of parents, the school, and the community.


    Janice N

  4. Bradley (and everyone!),
    I support teachers and the hard work they do, but let’s not pretend that all teachers are doing their job and doing it well. While incompetent teachers are not the only thing holding us back from fixing the problems in our education system, they are still a big factor that cannot be ignored. The fact is there are teachers in our public schools that simply do not care anymore and are not motivated to do a good job. And in a sense, who can blame them? With low wages, lack of resources, and students coming in at the beginning of the year below their grade-level standard, it should come as no surprise that many of these teachers may not be motivated to accomplish the goals we set for them. So, that is one part of the issue.

    The problem I have with teachers unions is that, essentially, they put all teachers on the same level; the teachers who will stop at nothing to improve the lives of their students, and the teachers who have given up on them. The bureaucracy of the unions is often what is holding us back from getting rid of these inadequate teachers.
    While I would like to support an organization that is meant to unite and protect teachers, I think that, ultimately, they do not accomplish what we really need. Is there a way that we could protect the teachers who have genuinely earned this protection, and have proven that they are here for the kids?

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