Mary Rao knows just how important a strong union is, because the place where she started her teaching career—Fairfax County, Virginia—provided a very different experience from the one she’s had as a Connecticut educator.
“In Virginia, I don’t remember meeting anyone from the union. I belonged to our union, but the union couldn’t do much, because we had few rights. When I started teaching in Madison, Connecticut, it was so nice to meet our union leaders and learn how our union was there to help teachers in need. I didn’t understand how strong and supportive a union could be until I came to Connecticut.”
After her third year teaching in Madison, the Brown Middle School math and science teacher went to a contract ratification meeting and asked how she could get more involved. Someone suggested she become a building rep. Nearly 20 years later, she’s still serving in that role, as well as on the union’s executive board.
“We are all the union,” says Rao. “Some members forget that, and I have to remind them: you are the union.”
No problem is too small to help out with if it’s important to a member, she adds.
“I focus on being an active listener and addressing everyone’s concerns. More members need to remember that we’re here to help them. Come see us before you try to tackle a problem yourself.”
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a strong ally for your colleagues too. Let us know why you became a building rep, and we may feature you in our next Building Rep Spotlight!