Visionary Leaders: A Study in the Role of a Union President for Education

It is interesting to think about the word “vision” and it’s origin. The word vision can have many meanings and interpretations. Vision is the way a person sees. It is his or her perception of life and the environment surrounding. Visions are also dreams. In order to have a vision you must be an effective leader that can demonstrate the purpose, understanding, belief, and measure of the vision. Any true vision needs direction. To have vision is to see the future. To have “a” vision is to have a plan to get your dream realized.

In the previous session long project I selected the role of Union President. In fact the BEA (Brockton Education Association) is one of the largest teachers union East of the Mississippi. The vision that I have for the union has three areas of need: salary, first year teacher mentoring, and better dental care.

It has and will always be said that teachers do not make the money that they should. It is hard to believe that Roger Clemens, newly acquired major league pitcher for the Houston Astros, makes more in one game than most do in one year! Of course the argument can be made that taxes do not pay player salaries and students do not have to pay $100 to sit in the front of the class while seats in the back would cost $60.

In recent contract negotiations, the union settled for an increase of 11% over three years. The superintendent of Brockton Public Schools gave himself a 10% raise over one year! The mayor of Brockton also accepted a raise greater than the teacher’s increase. Naturally, the union was upset. As union president it would be my vision to increase the salary to be comparable to similar inner city schools. For example, teaching in Boston pays more than teaching in Brockton. Yet, the only thing that separates the two cities is only twenty miles. The classes are the same and the environment is similar. This increase is to enable more teachers to buy their own houses in the community, to “not” live paycheck to pay check, and to bring Brockton salaries to an appropriate wage for all employees.

The other vision of first year teacher mentoring is to help new teachers. Teaching in Brockton is not easy. Being a first year teacher is not easy. The two together do not bode well for a successful marriage. In my school alone, first year teachers have quit, suffered depression, and have even left the teaching profession all together! As union president, my vision would be to offer a mandatory Summer session in August for new teachers to address classroom management, parent management, time management, and address any curriculum concerns. Additionally, each new teacher would have a senior faculty member as a mentor. These mentors would be compensated positions. The mentor and new teacher would meet once a week for the entire school year.

The last vision would be to increase the coverage of dental insurance. Currently, Brockton Public Schools has dental insurance. The dental insurance is not very good. It does cover routine check-ups and cleaning. However, it only covers about 40% of major dental work (root canals, caps, extraction). The cost of one root canal is enormous. Teachers should not have to pay such large amounts for something that is considered common. My vision would be to increase the coverage and to offer different dental plan options.

The purpose of any vision is to state where you think the organization is headed. For a union to succeed it needs to go to a place where the union members are being represented for their concerns. Also, at $657, the present yearly union dues, the members should see something in return for their contributions. I see the union heading in the direction of making the teachers in Brockton more financially secure. Too many teachers still live at home because they cannot bear the cost of their education and rent. Teachers in Massachusetts are required to achieve their Masters degree within five years of employment.

The members of the union would enjoy my vision. It would be hard pressed to find any disgruntled union members who would disagree with a salary increase. The persons that would be most hard to convince would be the school committee and the mayor. They have always felt that the teacher’s salary reflect the economy. However, the teacher’s salaries did not increase any more during the early Clinton years when the economy was surging. The committee and mayor would have to understand the concept of house ownership and rising costs of living.

Having a vision is one thing. Being able to make the members of the union believe in the vision is another. To believe is to have faith. To have faith is to have trust. The vision is one of prosperity. The vision is one that will make the lives of the union members better. As the president, I would outline my agenda on the first day of school. I would hold a meeting in the auditorium of the high school and ask that all members attend. I would attempt to rally the troops by asking all those teachers that live at home or rent to simply raise their hands. I would tell them that by standing together and by working as one, the vision has the opportunity to be realized.

The measure of any good vision is whether it worked. Just having a vision is not enough. You have to know that at the end of the day, the vision actually had an impact or that things changed. But how do you measure such a thing? The best way to measure is to compare many statistics. For example, the following statistics could be measured against previous years. The categories would include: house ownership, first year teacher retention, and dental procedures and the costs.

My vision as union president would be to make the life of our wonderful teachers better. Teaching is not an easy profession. It is a passion. Not every person can teach. Not every person can shape the future of America. Teachers are in a category of professions that sometimes go overlooked or lack the thanks they deserve. These jobs include nursing, police, firefighters, and teachers. Increasing the salaries of all teachers, increasing the dental coverage, and ensuring that new teachers stay in Brockton are my vision. Like I said before, the meaning of vision has many interpretations. Visions are dreams. Sometimes dreams do happen. Just ask Roger Clemens.

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