California Teachers Association: democratizing the education profession

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By Charles Edward Miller

Chicago teachers Union Day of Action strike in 2016.

Arielle Romero, Staff Writer

The California Teachers Association has over 1,100 local chapters in our state’s school districts, it’s a union full of educators whose passion is to advocate for students and public education. 

So, what does that mean for students? Why should we care? Well, for students, the CTA works to make sure school environments are full of resources beneficial to the education of all students, including teachers and Education Support Professionals. ESPs are entwined all throughout schools, you know them as school counselors, nurses, coaches, maintenance, bus drivers. The CTA recognizes the need to respect the rights of these educational professions: The CTA website states, “We understand that you can’t put students first if you put teachers last.” This illustrates how educator rights are closely tied to educational quality for students.

Educators receive little prestige in our society and are some of the lowest-paid professionals when compared to fields requiring a similar level of education. Unions like CTA have come a long way in ensuring educators have what they need to provide the best education for students.

The first educational union began in 1863, with only a few hundred students in public schools, and underpaid, unprepared teachers. Eventually, the labor union movement spread to California and the CTA pushed to move a law that guaranteed the right of free publication to all. Since then, the CTA has made landmark steps to improve conditions for students. Here are just a few examples of their work: they advocated to outlaw child labor, establish free public schools, sponsor Proposition 3 (which granted school funding of $120 for every enrolled student), authorize bilingual instruction classes for English learners, sponsor the Rodda Act- which granted k-14 school employees collective bargaining rights, and place state-wide curriculum standards in schools. 

Yes, it’s the CTA we can officially thank for the longer school day periods and rigorous graduation requirements back in 1963. But, as much as students may want an easier experience, the efforts of this union attest to the fact that they are moving for quality education, as opposed to single-mindedly pushing for making teaching jobs easier.

Our current, local CTA chapter holds the same values for educational advocacy as their predecessors. They report they are fighting for raising the standards of education, and supporting staff professionals, in the hopes of maintaining the right to quality education for each student and teacher. 

The negotiating team for CUTA is responsible for reaching agreements with the district for any school-related issues, changes, or events. They also reach out for feedback from teachers to listen to any of their concerns or opinions on any and all education or labor-related matters. 

There’s a democratic process that takes place, whether it’s through a meeting, a school-wide survey sent out to gather information or individual calls for help. East English, AP Composition teacher and lead negotiating team representative for CUTA, Tom Burkart says he’s looking for the, “best for the most people; what is the best deal we could get for people”.  This is the guiding motto the bargaining team likes to use when deciding on a contract’s terms and conditions from the collected feedback. 

Back in March with the reopening of our schools, the negotiating team and district reached an agreement with terms and conditions in which students would return, with safety protocols and conditions set in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the terms included, no meals are to be allowed in classrooms, permanent employee evaluations are suspended for the remainder of the year, grades k-6 can’t return no sooner than April 12th, and 7-12 no sooner than April 19th. 

With bargaining terms for our education, it locks in a system of democracy in our district. In an article by, Julian Peeples, “Will of the People: Voters turn out for Democracy”, National Education Association President Becky Pringle states, “In order to transform our public education system into one that is racially just, socially just, and equitable, so every student must succeed– our democracy must succeed.” The article refers to the recent November election, calling on voters from union members, school officials, parents, and students to help preserve unions and our democracy. 

As one of the largest democratic, and member-driven organizations, the California Teachers Association has worked tirelessly to improve teaching and learning conditions for all. They advocate for the students while protecting their members. It’s important for unions like these to continue in education because it sets up the future leaders of tomorrow for a life of equal opportunity, diversity, and unity while modeling what fighting for democracy really means.