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Tina Qualls

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“As an education major in college I was a student member of the NEA. I attended New Teacher Orientation in USD 259 and received a free lunch and invitation to join from the union staff. Several members made appointments with me to meet me at my new school and discuss the benefits of union membership with me. I joined sometime within the first month of my career. I thought it was the professional thing to do.

A few months after that, my principal asked me to attend an overnight activity with fifth and sixth graders which would have obviously violated my contract. I was assured by union staff that I did not have to attend and made some excuse to not attend the activity. Little did I know that only a couple of weeks after that, I had a formal evaluation and lo and behold, I was being recommended for non-renewal.

I was devastated. I had worked for four years and spent thousands of dollars to earn this degree and now it was being taken from me. I called the union office and they offered a plethora of encouragement and advice. First they informed me that I had a right to compose a rebuttal to my evaluation and tell “my side of the story.” They helped me frame it in a professional manner but focused on the lack of leadership that had been provided to me. They came out to observe me teach, model lessons, and coach me to a higher level of proficiency in my new career.

Things worked out well. I had to jump through some hoops to prove my abilities, and I ended up working at that same building, with the same principal, for 15 years! After that first year I became the building Pro-Rep. Since that time I have served on the union’s executive board, negotiations teams, membership committee and even worked an election to switch our bargaining unit to AFT from NEA, before the merger.

The point of all this is, I owe my career to the union, but I also became a part of the union. The power shifted to me, and I took control of my own professionalism. That sense of power was backed by local staff and the national affiliates. The power grew as I got to know what the contract says and understand what it means. I wasn’t just a name on a list, but I got to know the staff and they got to know me.

Be informed—read the e-mails and literature and Facebook posts from UTW. Be involved– attend a pro-rep meeting, volunteer for a special project, help out with site organizing at your building, or ask a non-member to join. If all of us could do one of those things we will be well on our way to truly being the United Teachers of Wichita.”

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