By Cindy Long. This article first appeared as “Union 101” in Tomorrow’s Teachers
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Union membership has its rewards. Just ask Arkansas middle school teacher Kristi Smith. One of her students thought it would be hilarious to remove a metal ring from a binder and wear it like a giant nose ring. When another student bumped him, the binder ring jammed into his nose and the student’s eyes instantly bruised and swelled. When the boy’s father saw the injury, he was furious and immediately threatened a lawsuit.
Enter the Arkansas Education Association (AEA). Smith’s state affiliate assured her of representation at all meetings. Her local UniServ director from the Springdale Education Association (SEA) would make sure she wouldn’t confront the problem alone.
“The irate father never did move forward, but I was relieved to have a contact person who knew the laws and could give me advice about what to do,” says Smith, a physical science teacher at Hellstern Middle School in Springdale. “My Arkansas UniServ director correctly predicted the father would back off since his child was acting inappropriately. Having a contact person provided by AEA/SEA relieved a lot of anxiety on my part.”
The Association serves and protects members starting from NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and extending to state, city, and town affiliates. But membership rewards go far beyond the legal protections most educators consider the main benefit.