Advice for the MEA, Part 1

I am a member of Michigan’s largest teacher’s union: The Michigan Education Association (MEA). (It actually represents several other groups of public and private school employees as well).

The last quarter of 2012 was a tenuous time for those actively involved in union activities. Proposal 2 (which would have constitutionally protected collective bargaining and union workplace procedures) was campaigned for the November election and the public voted it down more than 2-to-1. Then, during the lame duck session, the Michigan Legislature passed a series of “right-to-work” laws that give current union members the ability to remain employed in their current positions while ceasing to pay dues to a union. The reality of 25% to 40% of members accepting the new option is putting the MEA in a tricky position.

It has to sell it’s services.

MEA, I know you didn’t ask, but I have some advice for you. You provide a service to your members. No time would be better than now to begin to convince your members how vital your services are. I have spent some time trying to get a sense for what the mission of MEA is, not from reading the mission statement, but instead by looking at the publication: the MEA Voice. The journal that gets mailed to each member. THe contact that you keep with your members is contained within. In inspecting the MEA Voice, I have made a few observations.

1. The MEA Voice for December 2012 is a 24-page document (including the cover). In that document:

  • The cover is dedicated with a pretty cool picture of a rocket from a school’s rocketry program, which is competing against a quarter-page, bright red, “CRISIS” statement about legislation in the lower right corner.
  • The table of contents treats the rocketry program like a footnote to the huge picture of picketing, campaigning members in the middle of the page
  • The fantastic rocketry program is explained in a 2-and-a-half page article, which is split across the 5-page list of names of members who gathered at least 24 signatures for the Proposal Two petition drive.

All of this reveals one possible conclusion: The MEA is much more interested in the political side of education than it is about the academic side of education. At least that is what one could deduce from the organizations main publication.

But, I understand, 2012 was an election year. The lame duck session was very stressful and eventful. What about a non-election year. How about April 2011? That was 6 months past the 2010 mid-terms and a year-and-a-half from the 2012 elections. Surely if the MEA were going to publish some good academic articles, it would be then, right?

Well, here are some observations from that issue.

  • The cover shows a group of adults standing in a group looking up at the camera with the headlines “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: ‘Ed Reform’ vs. Building Effective Schools. How to best help students.” A good start…
  • A letter to the members all about legislation and concerns about it.
  • A flash back to a 1934 essay about how public policy is conspiring against public education.
  • A top ten list in which the only item on the list regarding good teacher was a paragraph dedicated to an award-winning social studies teacher from Kalamazoo (which came in at #7… one spot below the save-the-date for the MEA member golf outing at #6.)
  • The first real article is a 4-page spread on the cover issue in which all of the pictures show protesting members with signs.
  • 3 pages about health care, 2 about retirement, 6 pages dedicated to officer elections, and exactly NO advice for a young teacher trying to get better. Also, there was no notices of conferences, workshops, or professional development (aside from some advertising space given to local university programs.)

In fact, I went looking through the rest of the available issues. Here’s what I found:

  • February 2011 – One page (out of 24) dedicated to a column on good ELA instruction. It was pg 22. Last of the whole magazine. For the record, it got the same amount of paper and ink dedicated to it as the one-page ad for the member golf outing.
  • December 2010 – One-and-a-half pages about an effective band teacher.
  • October 2010 – A notice of a instructional support PD conference appears on pg 3, and 2 pages dedicated to school improvement at Adrian High School. (This amidst the 6 pages dedicated to supporting Virg Bernero as Michigan’s next governer.)

You get the idea. A trip around the website says the same thing.

The MEA is a political organization that is now in the position of having to market itself to its prospective members. It is clear to me what the MEA does to support its legislative beliefs. it is clear to me what partnerships the MEA has for healthcare and retirement services.

But what if I don’t want to be a member of a political organization? What if my goal is to excel as an educator? What evidence do I have that you will support me in that venture?

In Part 2 of this series, I will complete my (unsolicited) advising of the MEA.

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