Collect your personal belongings and we’ll escort you to your car.
Was what a middle leader was once told after he allegedly sent an email to his department which was perceived as undermining SLT. Upon entering his car, he was told to have no contact whatsoever with any member of staff until investigations were complete. So for the next two weeks he could do nothing but observe the deterioration of his mental health. One can only imagine the anxiety that accompanied the fear of job loss; and as for the exacerbation of this through loneliness? Well, we’d rather not think about it. On the plus side, the one person he was permitted to speak to was his is union rep.
It goes without saying that the above example could easily be substituted by a whole myriad of others, some more sinister than others. Lest the NQT reading this become paranoid, let me be absolutely clear- the above, and teachers suspensions in general, are very rare and a final resort to most issues.
This blog will outline the importance of union membership, clear up any misconceptions, and hopefully encourage camaraderie between all staff: We are vulnerable, but we are in this together. If ever the not-so-proverbial, proverbial shit hits the fan like it did for the aforementioned teacher, it is the camaraderie- enabled by the union- which (not to sound melodramatic) will save us.
I’m loving angels instead
The union is just like the angel that Robbie Williams sung about: They offer you protection whether you’re right or wrong. Let’s say you just got told your teaching requires improvement because your pupils didn’t make ‘rapid and sustained progress’ (or other such obscurity). Your Headteacher decides you need to be on an action plan, despite your excellent track record and heavily insists on it. In this situation, your union rep could argue your case to your Headteacher, the way a solicitor would for their client. For arguments sake, let’s assume it’s your third bad lesson obs this year, and you would actually benefit from an action plan. In this case, the union reps job would be to ensure that procedures are being carried out fairly. The unions job is to provide you with the level of defence to which you are entitled. (If you actually are incompetent and don’t improve, then of course it can – and should- only go one way).
There are lots of financial benefits to joining a union. Lest I regurgitate what is on their websites, the major benefit is legal assistance should you require it. (This still has to be applied for and is normally for legal assistance in matters work related). Without a union you are guaranteed to have to pay your own legal fees should you end up in hot water.
Join one when you need one?
Why pay now? Surely you can just join if ever you’re in trouble, right? Wrong! For the same reason as why you can’t have a car accident and then get insured afterwards and claim for it: Neither work retroactively.
In my opinion, much of why the academy structure came into existence was to dismantle the Burgundy Book: The document that outlines teachers’ pay and conditions. You see, while most academies do sign up to this, they don’t actually have to. I mention this as occasionally the only thing preventing a megalomaniacal Headteacher getting staff to wash his/her car, mow their lawn, or do Saturday intervention sessions are the teachers. If you’re in a union, you not only get to have a good ol’ British moan, but you also get to leave union meetings with a sense of what I refer to as ‘badassity’. A single teacher, no matter how badass, will likely not complain alone, but the badassity of many teachers is priceless. If you’re not in a union you cannot even attend union meetings, let alone unleash your inner Walter White. You don’t want to be Jessie all your life do you?! :0)
Every year there are many union conferences, all with unique themes, but with the common purpose of bringing teachers together. These are usually either free or heavily subsidised, and you get to socialise with fellow teachers in some pretty posh hotels and restaurants. NQTs find these particularly useful as the need for sharing- thus halving- the problems, stresses and worries of the NQT year is a strong one. Also, they are mostly during the school week so you get a couple of days off!
Ah- the $64 million question. Simple: Join the one that most of the teachers at your school are in. It just makes it easier with regards to meetings, communication etc. It is worth noting that generally, primary teachers are in the NEU and secondary teachers are in the NASUWT.
Obviously, unions are nowhere near as militant as they were once upon a time. So now, in actual fact you are not obliged to go on strike when mandated to do so by the union. (Personally, I disagree with this and I believe there should be an obligation, but it would be wrong to misinform you). In short, if you have a conscientious objection to strike action, you don’t have to let it deter you from joining a union.
Pick up the phone tomorrow.
By Omar Akbar
For more advice and guidance check out The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you at training college. Available on Amazon £6.75/£3.99