Teachers have a reputation for being relatively meek and mild. But when it comes to their organizations, they are anything but. Texas has the most contentiously competitive climate in the entire country when it comes to choosing teacher representation. So readers, feel free to add any comments you have on particular organizations.
First, some disclosure. I worked as an attorney for one of the organizations for many, many years. My view is that of an insider of the organizational structures, not as a member/consumer. Now, on to the review.
Texas is unique among the states in that it has four strong, comprehensive statewide organizations for teachers to choose from. In some regions of the state, there are additional choices. The four major organizations are: ATPE - Association of Texas Professional Educators TCTA - Texas Classroom Teachers Association TFT - Texas Federation of Teachers TSTA - Texas State Teachers Association In the Dallas- Fort Worth area, there is UEA - United Educators Association I am not aware of any other currently active regional organizations, but please let me know of any that are out there.
All the five organizations offer similar benefits and services, but they have different focus, philosophy and particularly strong areas. Which means that as a teacher, you can probably find one that you like. TFT and TSTA are affiliated with national labor unions. All the organizations have local organizations in individual school districts, although none of them have local units in every district. All the organizations offer professional liability insurance for instances when a teacher is sued. All the organizations offer some type of general legal assistance for employment-related problems, such as non-renewals, general grievances, parent complaints, student discipline problems, and the like. All the statewide organizations have legislative programs and paid lobbyists in Austin. TFT and TSTA, through their national affiliations, also have paid lobbyists in Washington. ATPE and TCTA monitor national legislative developments from Austin. All the organizations provide magazines and newsletters on educational issues. They also all offer professional development in some form.
Now for the differences in the organizations. In alphabetical order: ATPE has traditionally been strongest in its individual employment representation. With a large membership, they also have local units in the majority of school districts, although the activities of each local unit vary widely.
TCTA focuses on classroom teachers, although they do have non-classroom members. They tend to specialize in classroom specific lobbying activities rather than general educational policy issues, both at the Capitol and at TEA and the state board of education. They have initiated a number of very teacher-friendly bills.
TFT has a strong union-style influence and provides most of its services through strong local units in major school districts. They do not have units in the majority of school districts. Where they do have local units, they have a strong presence before the school boards. TFT also a strong influence at the state capitol.
TSTA has struggled to define itself in recent years, but it has always had and still maintains an authoritative voice on educational policies and practices, and provides a lot of the research used to back up legislative programs.
UEA, as a regional organization, is able to offer regular professional development at its headquarters, and its staff representatives are able to maintain a regular presence before the school boards of the districts where it is active.
Tomorrow I'll discuss some of the weaknesses in each of these organizations.