Saturday, October 8, 2016
My Story of Union
I received a thick envelop sent from the Education Administration in the late fall of my college senior year . It was not a piece of post card like the first screening test, but it was thick. I knew it had good news. On the first paper, it said, "Congratulations. You successfully passed this year's teacher's examination in Elementary School." The rest of the papers were some official forms to fill out in order to make this official. My hard work paid off! My teaching job was guaranteed after the graduation and I can stay in Tokyo! The winter months passed and March entered, but I didn't have any specific school officials contacted me. After the graduation and graduation party in March, I was blue, not only because I was sentimental about saying good byes to my friends, but I realized I didn't have a job. I might have been green on my face. I chose not look at the mirror. I packed up anyway to move out the dorm. I was no longer a student. I was anxious about how long I could survive with my savings but I was also excited to live without curfew, have my own bathroom, and get my own phone in my own room. My cheerful attitude brought some luck. As soon as I connected my phone line, I got a first phone call from the prospective school official. "How are you doing? Your resume looks great. You have the secondary music degree, don't you? So, would you be able to come to this middle school?" My smiling face turned into the confusing mad cow. "What? I passed the 'Elementary' school exam. Not a middle school!" He sighed in the other side of the line, "OK, if you don't take this job, you might not get any offers this year. When this year passed, your eligibility will automatically expire. That is a rule." It shut my mouth quite successfully. I could not afford "no job". I had bills and loans to pay. "OK. I will." Then I hung up my, I thought, lucky first call.
This middle school was not pleasant to be. Students whose age range 12 to 15 in all black uniforms tried to act "cool" which always not approved by school code. I was now official to be a brand new (youngest) and music (not core subject) teacher who became teenagers' easy bullying target and elder teachers' servant. Another new hire was older than me so she avoided the turmoil that I had to endure. But she was always supportive and giving advice here and there. I hated Saturday because I had to go to work. Everybody did, students and teachers for a half day. A half day is for kids. Teachers implicitly required to stay longer as well as other 5 days. Usually teachers stay at school until 6 or 7 pm during the weekdays if you don't have to pick up your kid at the daycare. On Saturday in addition to teaching, I had to take lunch orders from fellow teachers in my grade, make phone calls to the restaurant, collect money, receive their food, and return their change just because I was a youngest female teacher. A language arts teacher who was couple of years older cunningly smiled at me, "I am so glad that I don't have to do it any more." A black framed middle aged social studies teacher was the only one who went home without ordering lunch except only a few occasions. My mentor science teacher sitting by me whispered me as if it shouldn't be heard, "He goes home because he is in the Union."
My mentor teacher continued, "You are a new teacher so be careful. The principal has a say to 'yay' or 'nay' to make your position permanent from the initial hire. Being in the Union might make your situation difficult." There were only this social studies teacher and another teacher identified the union member. But I didn't have any clue what they were doing other than being able to go home on time. I was interested in checking it out at least because I wanted to go home on time, too, however, I was too scared to get involved in this seems-like-secret-organization which might jeopardize my career which I just started. After one year of horrific first teaching year, I was sent to the elementary school. I met a school nurse who was in the union. She was married and referred her husband "Otto" (husband) when she talked about him to someone rather than "Shujin" (master) which is commonly used in the general house wives population in Japan. She said husband and wife should be equal, a husband is not a master of his wife. I agreed with her and found out it was almost impossible for me to find someone who would like to be equal to a woman especially with me. So I shifted to the different direction. To America as an exchange teacher.
My American dream was broken in pieces after the end of the one year teaching exchange program. My bank account was exhausted miserably. I reluctantly took another teaching exam in Japan as soon as I was back. This only once a year rigorous exam was still rigorous but I was somewhat relaxed and passed. Until next permanent position, I took a couple of long sub positions. I was paid per hour. I had no guilt to leave on time. It was great. I even didn't have to belong to a certain organization to exercise my right. Following April, I started working "Elementary School" with great team members including more union members. Although this school seemed like the best fit for me, endless staff meetings exhausted my soul. I was told the union is related to the communist party. The union didn't like the national flag. They said the rising sun represented the emperor who didn't try to stop the war. Administrators tried to convince to present a national flag to follow the district guideline. In my mind, the war was over long time ago, just look at the flag as a country's symbol. Surprisingly, principal decided not to put the national flag up on the stage in the gym after several hours of meetings during after school hours. But he insisted to remain putting up traditional red and white (traditionally celebration color combination) curtains around the gym for the graduation. The union group didn't like the red-white curtain, either because red and white represent the color of national flag. At that point, I was very disappointed in the union's unreasonable excuses of just going against administrators. I lost my interest and respect after all these unfruitful arguments day after day. The focus wasn't on students.
So it took me for a long time to gain trust in the union since I started teaching in the U.S. I made my feet wet a little by little. Each time I wet my feet, I was convinced that our association really cares about teachers and kids. The union knows partnership with administrators brings better on policy making decisions. The union also knows when teachers are encouraged and treated well, they teach well. That is a great cycle back to kids' education. Our kids deserve the best teachers and education in our country. When I realized it, I decided to pursue the National Board Certification with the Union's support. At the same time, I obtained an American Citizenship. At the time, I got a right to voice myself with my vote. Like a tortoise, my journey has been slow yet steady. but I know I can support what and whom I believe with my vote. With my power of one vote, I would like to continue advocate children and their future success in our country.