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Why join a Union?

This guest post comes in from an experienced teacher working on the Essex/London border. He talks about the importance of joining a union when you're embarking on a teaching career, whether you're going into training or your NQT year.

Hello! I’m a music teacher in a large secondary school situated on the Essex / London border. I’ve also taught KS3 History and PSHE across KS3 and 4. I’ve mentored and supported trainee teachers and NQTs, and have provided material for trainee subject specialists which is being used in several local schools. I trained late, in my mid-thirties, having spent ten years as a retail manager and three years working in the offices of a music retailer in the West End.

For the last five years, I’ve been a school-based rep for the NEU (previously NUT); since the combining of the NUT and ATL, we have had two reps in school, with duties being shared between us. 

The majority of teaching professionals will never need a Union to represent them. They act discreetly on the behalf of teachers and provide the backbone to job security. But, with so many work-related pressures, becoming a member of a teaching union makes sense, and you should consider joining one from the moment you start to work in a school. This is especially true in the current climate, with parents making increased demands, a litigious culture, and high levels of stress. However, you may at some point need the help and support in your career that trade unions can provide.

Before you join any professional body, make sure you do your research and work out what you want from a union as each one has a slightly different offering. Teachers should have access to guidance, support, and legal and professional advice if they need it. Trade unions provide these services and much more. A teaching trade union is there to operate in your best interests. It's made up of teachers and speaks for teachers. It acts on teachers' needs and protects and represents them.

In your training year, you can join as many unions as you like; they’re free to join for trainees. Most unions also offer free membership or reduced subscriptions for your first year of teaching. Once you become eligible to pay for membership (the point at which you need to decide which one to join), most unions will let you spread the subscription cost across the year. Rates for qualified teachers vary depending on how long you’ve been teaching and whether you teach part-time or full time. This link provides some tips on how to make your decision;

Most schools have reps in situ; many have several, each representing the union of which they are a member. The role of the rep varies greatly, ranging from providing coffee and a reassuring chat to full-on school-based casework representation. Your rep should introduce themselves at your first inset session. Many of them have dedicated hours in their timetables in which to conduct union work, and you should introduce yourself to them at the earliest possibility.

I’m a fairly low key rep. I see this as a good thing since very little arises at my school to present issues. The members know where to find me, or my joint rep, and they do when they need a little clarity on something or a fresh pair of eyes. I’ve never had to represent anyone, which again can only be a good thing. However, it’s impossible to overstate how important it is to have access to representation. Some years ago, a colleague was (falsely) accused of hitting a child. It went all the way to a police investigation. Without union support, my colleague would have needed to find her own representation, would have faced legal costs, and so forth. The ordeal took a half term to run its course and left her feeling that she couldn’t return to the classroom. She did for a short while and then left to complete her Ph.D. To this day, fourteen years later, she still praises the support she received from her rep and the local union network. 

So, don’t delay. And if you have, join tomorrow. In these uncertain times, you’ll be glad you did. Good luck with your careers. To quote Obi-Wan: “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” 

Mauro Sheehan  

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