Global history teacher Leif Roberg is treasurer of the Coxsackie-Athens TA.
1. So much of 'union work' happens behind the scenes. What should members know?
The union is an incredibly powerful, unified voice that protects rights, solves problems and advocates for students. Even something as simple as having a maximum number of classes and a required number of planning periods is absolutely crucial for us to do our jobs effectively and efficiently. Without those contractual protections, districts would feel financial pressure to cut costs by adding classes and reducing planning time, which would severely curtail our ability to plan high quality lessons and evaluate students' work thoroughly.
2. What contractual benefits might members overlook?
Most contracts are full of benefits, small and large. Under our contract, a teacher can apply for a sabbatical for a full year and earn half of a salary, or for a half a year and earn a full salary. This opportunity has been in the contract for decades, but is rarely used. Another nugget is guaranteed access to a photocopier from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. This makes the lives of our teachers much easier as we come in the morning or stay in the afternoon in order to prepare our lessons for the coming days.
3. You completed a yearlong sabbatical. What impact did that have on your teaching?
I used my sabbatical to travel to India, China and Israel — areas I teach the most about. The sabbatical empowered me to teach about complicated and difficult topics. For example, when I teach about the Palestinian- Israeli conflict, I'm able to refer to conversations I had with Palestinian teenagers I met in Bethlehem as well as conversations I had with Israelis.
4. How did your union involvement begin?
I first witnessed the power of being in the union when one of our members was suffering from headaches after the completion of a construction project in her work space. The district did not want to pay to test the air quality, so the union contacted OSHA. I realized, at that moment, that the union is there to protect not only our salaries, benefits and health, but also the health and well-being of the students we serve.
5. What are some key benefits union members enjoy?
In many ways, a strong contract provides peace of mind. Instead of worrying about whether my boss will allow me to use a bereavement day or whether I'll be able to get health insurance, I can put most of my energy into ensuring my students get the best education I could possibly provide for them. The union also provides so many social opportunities for us to interact as colleagues.