Thursday, May 5, 2016

Active Membership

This spring, I decided to run for secretary of my union, the Guilderland Teachers Association. I found out that I was not the only one running for the position and needed to write a statement to be distributed to members about my candidacy. As I looked at my blank computer screen, I crossed my fingers and hoped that I could fill a page.  I thought about giving an overview of my involvement in the GTA over my 16 years.  I thought it was a good place to start.

As I finished explaining my experience, I was surprised to find myself near the bottom of a second page. I had never really sat down before and thought through all of the roles I had taken on over the years as a union member. In seeing it all written down, it made me feel even stronger on tackling this larger role of GTA secretary.

Once I was ready, I asked a few colleagues to read and give me feedback before sending it off.  I was relieved to have it finished and nervous to have all of my colleagues across the district read it.

The very next day though I found out that the other candidate had reconsidered and decided not to run after all. I was, of course, relieved but a little disappointed after having crafted my election statement. So I figured not to let it go to waste and share it here.  Being a union member is an important and critical role in my teaching life, of any teacher's life.  I am glad to be able to share that part of myself as a teacher here.

May 3, 2016

Dear fellow GTA members,

I am writing to you to ask for your support on Tuesday, May 10, as I seek the position of GTA secretary.  I hope in this role, I can continue to devote my time and energy into continuing to make our union stronger.

I have taught at Farnsworth Middle School for the past 16 years as a 7th grade language arts teacher. I came to the district and this building at a time when our staff looked very different than what it does today.  At FMS, I was surrounded by veteran teachers who had been here for many years. I was lucky to be placed on a team with some of them. My teammates not only supported me as a young teacher but also as a young union member. Some of my memories in my early career are, of course, populated with my students and my successes and failures in the classroom. But what stands out, too, are the lessons and education I received on why our union was so important. I heard stories of times we had to stand together and fight for the rights and working conditions that I entered the profession taking for granted. I was instilled with a sense of awe at those who were active union members and took on the roles within our building and our larger teaching unit.

I was inspired by those colleagues, and it didn’t take long before I felt I was ready to play a role in the GTA.  My first position was as FMS building secretary. As a young teacher, it was a job that allowed me to support our building president. I attended TALC and building meetings and took the minutes to share with members. I created fliers and promoted events within our building. While building secretary is not exactly a vocal position, it was one that allowed a young teacher like me to put my toe in the water and get a glimpse of the work that our union does for all of us.

My next step in becoming more active was to take on the position of FMS building representative on our GTA Representative Council. This lead me to an even greater understanding of the work of our union. In meeting monthly with representatives from all seven buildings and our Executive Committee, I got a more global sense of the issues all teachers in our district were dealing with, the good work that was happening across buildings, and a better sense of community in making connections with teachers at all three levels.  Being a building representative also encouraged my own voice in the union as I was able to participate and share my views at both Rep Council and then in reporting back to my colleagues at FMS. Developing my own confidence as a professional has been invaluable to me. It has encouraged me to take more risks by presenting at conferences, becoming a leader in other professional organizations, such as the Capital District Writing Project, and ultimately has allowed me to step up in other ways as a GTA member.

In 2008, I left my building representative position to go on maternity leave. When I returned in 2010-11, I gave myself time to acclimate myself back to the world of teaching. I came back though to APPR, increased testing, and an attack on the teaching profession.  I used my voice to write letters to the editor and had two published in the Times Union.  I spoke during a public comment section of our Guilderland Board of Education meeting to voice my concerns on our newly adopted computerized testing, the NWEAs, for use as local assessments. I also started a blog, where I continue to write about my experiences as a teacher and allow myself a space to voice my concerns about the world of education. While I was not in an elected GTA position during this time, I continued to work as an active member.  

In the spring of 2013, FMS learned that our building president was stepping down. I took this as an opportunity to step back into a new role in the GTA and ran as co-building president alongside Emily Mineau. We have been serving as co-presidents since 2013-14, and it has been an invaluable collaboration. This position has given me an even wider scope of the work of our union. It has challenged me in ways that I didn’t know it would. As leaders in our building, Emily and I work with administration to help members who need union representation. We attend bi-weekly meetings with our building principal to address concerns that staff have and troubleshoot problems that arise.  We make sure the FMS membership stays informed on issues in our district, in our state and nationally. We attend monthly meetings of the Executive Committee, Representative Council, and FMS TALC. I also serve as a representative on the Co-Curricular District Review Committee.  More recently, I have volunteered to serve on the new GTA Local Action Plan or LAP team. This is a group that will allow me to take a role in getting even more of our members to be more active in our union and build community support. I am hoping it will give me the chance to do for my fellow colleagues what my veteran colleagues did for me when I entered Guilderland. I wish for all members to find a role that allows them to make our union stronger.

In taking my work in the GTA a step further, I am seeking the position of GTA secretary. This will allow me to continue my work with the Executive Committee and Rep Council. I am hoping to expand the work of secretary to include more communication via social media and our GTA website. I am positive that all my experience over the past 16 years will serve me well as I look to take on this new role.

Thank you for your time. I hope that you will support my bid for GTA secretary on Tuesday, May 10.

In Solidarity,
Molly Fanning

No comments: