By L. Spriggs
Unions don’t generally support doing unpaid work for employers because it sets the precedent that employees have an obligation to work for their employer on their time off, and that should be unacceptable to anyone who supports unions. Your employer isn’t entitled to your unpaid personal time.
It gets tricky, however, for teachers. One reason is because many people see themselves as working extra for their students, not for their employer, and this leads to them volunteering their time to tutor, to sponsor unpaid clubs, to attend school events, to provide plenty of feedback through grading on their weekends, etc. Volunteering your time for your students outside of the contractually obligated workday is a personal choice that the union leaves up to its members.
However, keep in mind that our contract does state that, "As professionals, teachers recognize their obligation to be available often for students and others before and/or after school hours." That's pretty vague, so I interpret that to mean that we should be willing to take or make phone calls when necessary, to occasionally come in early or stay late to meet with parents or students when needed, and to generally make sure we're available at some point for co-workers, students, parents, or administrators if the need arises and the requests are reasonable.
The most common concern, especially for new teachers, is whether or not it’s O.K. To roll into the parking lot with just enough time to make it to your desk or office in the morning, or whether it’s O.K. To bust out right at the bell in the afternoon, and how they might be judged by others for doing so. From a union perspective, it’s not your obligation to justify your arrival and departure times for the administration, for parents, or for your fellow co-workers—as long as you’re here when you’re supposed to be and need to be. Some of us arrive early, so we leave early; some of us stay late so we arrive just on time; many of us take work home, have kids to drop off or pick up, appointments to get to, shopping to do, etc. Sometimes you just have a rough day and need to get the hell out of the building as soon as possible, and some of us just like to spend as little time at work as possible just because it’s work. As long as you're fulfilling your duties, there are no extra prizes for coming in early or staying late, and no extra penalties for walking in with the students or leaving with the students.
Finally, don’t forget that some of us see teaching as a calling, and some of us see it as just a job, and as long as you’re doing the job well and you’re adhering to the contract, both of those views are equally acceptable from a union’s perspective. There’s already a teacher shortage in America. If we waited around to hire only teachers who felt called to teaching, our class sizes would be a heck of a lot bigger.
Proud alumnus, union member, and educator in District #201 since 2006.
Dr. Hentze is the author of High Finance with Hentze, a monthly blog that provides news about District 201's current financial state.