One of the best moments for me in education came when I was teaching a challenging class and a student was off task but another corrected him and said something like “be quiet – she is teaching us something”.
Moments like that got me to love teaching, but I also get a great deal of satisfaction from my work as president of my local, the Napa Valley College Faculty Association, where we have worked hard to support part-time instructors, improve circumstances for the faculty and generally make the college stronger.
I came to teaching and unions naturally, but not right away. My parents were both teachers – and NEA members. I did not set out to be a teacher but got an English degree, and I initially found teaching part time at a community college was a way to have an income. The pay was unfair, I thought, and the benefits and the power for us was limited, and that stuck with me.
My first class was challenging because I was teaching English to students who needed it to graduate from high school, some coming out of juvenile hall and some who had children or other life events that had made classwork difficult. I love giving them an understanding and appreciation of writing and communications – and making them aware of how much writing will be critical in any career they chose. I love it especially when there are moments like that one where a student appreciated my role as a teacher – or those moments when a student understands something I am trying to convey.
My union work came naturally. I had been employed in the hospitality industry in college and the union for those workers had been a powerful force to protect us and get us better wages and benefits. That combined with my experience as a part-time instructor, where I saw what it was like not to have such protection, inspired me early on to get involved in the union on our campus. And I’ve been particularly focused on the rights of part-time instructors.
I’m proud that we have very good participation by our faculty, and have been able to negotiate a 10-percent and then a 12-percent pay raise over about five years. We also negotiated to get part-time teachers pay for office hours, which, we argued, is also only fair to the students in their classes.
At the state level, I offered the primary testimony for legislation that eventually passed after about four years of work that gave seniority rights to part-time college teachers who had performed well over several semesters. We are now working to get all part-time faculty health care coverage.
More than anything, I believe I have been a voice for the faculty during the tenure of an administration that was not always friendly or fair to the educators on campus. We have new leadership, and I’ve forged a good relationship with the new president and feel certain I am paving the way for the union and its leaders to have a say in the college’s direction and, specifically, decisions that affect them.
My goal in the classroom and in my work with the union can be stated pretty simply: I want to make things better than when I came. I believe I accomplish that with my students – helping them understand the language better and how it can be used. And I know I have done that with my union – accomplishing change where it was needed and establishing the union as a legitimate partner on campus.