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Teachers formed union so they could do their jobs

As a teacher at Buffalo United Charter School, I knew beginning my job that I was choosing to work in what was billed as a unique and innovative environment.

I chose to work in an urban school that has high rates of child poverty and students who are extremely unprepared. I chose to work in a school that said it would try new educational techniques, think outside the box and put children first.

What I didn't choose was an autocratic, top-down management style that devalued my experience, expertise and commitment and made no room for teachers' input in professional development or curriculum planning.

Faced with this lack of choice, what I did choose was to organize -- to gain the voice, balance and sense of partnership that was missing at my school.

More than 90 percent of my colleagues at Buffalo United Charter School joined me in forming our union. We approached New York State United Teachers and decided to form a union after years of frustration in trying to work with our school's administration as full partners in educating our kids.

A recent article in The Buffalo News pointed to unionized labor as a positive factor in attracting and keeping businesses in the region. The article cited the example of the General Motors plant in Tonawanda, where the efficiency of operations and cooperation of the union has led to the production of a new engine line at that plant.

Well, we are not a factory. We are a school. If the union's input is crucial to an assembly line, imagine how crucial the input of highly educated, experienced, dedicated teachers are in the running of a school.

The teachers are the experts on our students. We hold their hands, tie their shoes, give them mittens and lunch money and are people who will listen.

Teachers need a voice in the school, and the union is the only way to get that. No one told us to organize a union; frankly, forming a union was the only way to make our voice heard in order to do the job we want to do to support and help our students succeed.

Forming a union was not about pay or benefits, though ours are lower than teachers in other districts and charter schools in the area. It was about having the support, standing and respect necessary to do the jobs we were hired to do.

Choosing to form a union is a right in this country and charter school teachers should not be vilified for exercising this right. We should not be warned of the big, bad union or scolded for not knowing what we are doing. We know exactly what we are doing. We are standing up for our kids.

Barb Coogan is a teacher at Buffalo United Charter School.