by Tim Reed
Yesterday, Ambereen Khan-Baker, an AP English teacher from Rockville, Maryland, joined President Obama, Labor Secretary Perez, economists, employers, and fellow union members from across the nation at the White House Worker Voice summit to speak up on the importance of having a voice in the workplace. Union members already know that their collective voice not only helps their own families, but also has a spillover effect that raises up all working families in their communities.
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More importantly for Khan-Baker, however, is how her union allows her to speak up for her students and improve outcomes in the classroom:
By standing together with my fellow teachers, we have been able to address issues such as funding sources and classroom sizes. In Montgomery County, our union collaborates directly with the superintendent to ensure that cuts made in our system is far removed from the classroom. The Superintendent, along with the three unions in our County, actually all sit at the table together to create a budget each year that tries to keep necessary cuts away from directly impacting students.
Khan-Baker not only uses the power of her union’s collective voice to advocate for working families and students, but she even brings the lessons learned from her union work back to the classroom to help make her students better and more confident citizens. She shared the story of a student who was struggling with confidence in her writing. Instead of simply giving the student the answers, Khan-Baker began using a “probing-questions” strategy that she learned in her mentor-teacher training provided through the union to encourage the student to be thoughtful about her own work.
“In our discussion, I saw her face light up and that was her a-ha moment,” said Khan-Baker, “that magical moment for which teachers strive when they know that a student has grasped a concept.”
In the two years I had her, I was gratified to see that she developed a sense of confidence that she knew what she was talking about. No one can take that away. Because of our union, I have opportunities to grow while staying in the classroom, and I learn skills that I can then take back to the classroom.
For many educators, their union is not only their voice in the workplace, but in their communities and local government as well. As workers from across the political spectrum pointed out during the summit, for many of them the union is also the only place where they can put pressure on management to do the right thing and provide them with common-sense reforms and safety regulations that are eventually adopted industry-wide.
For police officers, this can mean bargaining for proper safety equipment, for EMTs and other first-responders, it can mean limiting the number of double shifts they can be required to work. It’s obvious that these types of wins gained through collective bargaining increase the safety and security of entire communities.
But for Khan-Baker, it’s all about her students.
Ambereen Khan-Baker is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in AYA/ELA and has a Bachelors Degree in Secondary Education and Literature from American University and a Masters Degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. With ten years in the classroom, Ambereen currently teaches AP Language and Composition and yearbook at Rockville High School in Montgomery County, MD. She serves as a Coach Coordinator and Candidate Support Provider for National Board candidates in Montgomery County. Ambereen is an Ambassador for the Montgomery Institute, a partnership between NEA and Montgomery County Education Association, where she works with teacher leaders across the country on collaborative problem solving to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Ambereen is also a blogger for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, in which she shares classroom and her experiences as a teacher-leader. You can follow Ambereen on Twitter @ambereenkb.