Labor Day is the day set aside to celebrate the great accomplishments of the American labor force, past and present. All educators know well how Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer and the start of the school year, no matter how many days before Labor Day their schools may actually start now. Yet many teachers do not connect to the meaning of Labor Day itself to their own role in the incredible professional work they do. The day also celebrates the accomplishments of organized labor in fighting for fair wages and benefits that allow us to care for our families and our basic needs as rewards earned for what we do in schools and classrooms every day.
Labor Day celebrates equally the role of organized labor in improving and maintaining working conditions that allow us to do our jobs free from intrusions and interventions that prevent us from achieving our vision of educating and empowering our students regardless of their abilities and the living conditions from which they come. Anything less than the best working conditions takes us away from being the best professional decision makers we are educated and licensed to be.
Labor Day should also celebrate the proactive nature of our professional unions in holding our advocacy as their unwavering prime directive and singular, resolute vision. We should celebrate that we are our union, and our union is us knowing that, together, we can be professionals working in classrooms and schools where our professionalism flourishes and is valued and protected.
Just as we should celebrate our union, be it NEA-OEA or AFT-OFT, we must also consciously embrace that we have an obligation to ourselves to hold ourselves accountable for our wages, benefits, and especially our working conditions. This means that we must hold our union leadership—they are us—accountable for what we experience as professionals in the daily context of our workplace within public schools and classrooms.
Just as The Teacher Advocate project argues for all of Ohio’s educators to work within a system of authentic accountability, we also argue that for us as teachers to be able to fully embrace and celebrate Labor Day, we must be vigilant toward how we are led by our own union leadership. We must learn how to ask how effectively and successfully we are leading ourselves as hardworking members of a now highly oppressed, organized labor force.
As with any professional or organized labor group, it is all too easy to lose vigilance, to distance ourselves from our own professional leadership and thus lose sight of our own advocacy. When this happens, working conditions become less than ideal. We as teachers submit and succumb to being deskilled, de-professionalized, and, indeed, dehumanized by laws, mandates, and department of education policies that are overtly indefensible morally and demonstrably invalid psychometrically.
The disconnect between what dedicated teachers now suffer professionally and what we should be experiencing has never been greater. Truly embracing Labor Day means truly embracing where we are and what we have become as teachers who are members of our own organized, professional labor group. The Teacher Advocate project is dedicated to ending the disconnect by helping teachers understand fictions and falsehoods of Ohio’s school accountability system so that we can actively help our professional unions and their leaders right the wrongs that have been forced upon us and upon our students.
It simply does not have to be the way it is as long as we have our unions and realize our role in shaping a critical vision of teacher advocacy. Together, we can succeed in the pursuit of a fair, valid, reliable, and reasoned accountability model as active union members helping our own unions recapture and act upon why we exist in the first place. Let us make every day a Labor Day as we bring fairness and dignity back to the teachers of Ohio. Together, we can.
Randy L. Hoover, Founder of The Teacher Advocate