One Member’s Path to Activism
By Matt Corcoran
This is my second year as a full-time teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Anaheim, where I teach AP Language & Composition, English 3, and Journalism. I learn from my students every day: the latest slang or fashion or pop culture trends, who’s dating who, or who’s beefing with who. But more than that, I learn what they care about, what matters to them, what they know and don’t know. I learn what they’re passionate about, and I share my passions with them.
I believe that a classroom functions best when there is a healthy, positive bond between teacher and students. My students know they can come to me with their problems. They know I care about them and respect them, and because of this, I feel that they respect me. This relationship helps me to be not only a better teacher but a better person.
I’m a member of Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association (ASTA). I came to know about ASTA’s work during the reduction in force (RIF) hearing last spring. Hundreds of educators who had received pink slips (including 80 in my district) went before district officials to make their case as to why they should not be laid off.
As a first-year teacher, I had never dealt with anything like the RIF process before. I was concerned and confused. ASTA held a helpful informational meeting about the complicated situation, but I don’t think I would have made it through if it wasn’t for Christie Bettendorf and CTA field staff Lisa Eck. Christie went above and beyond her role as site rep to ensure that I knew exactly what to expect. That she was so knowledgeable and confident made the experience a little easier to handle. At the hearing, where I chose to represent myself, Lisa was an invaluable source of information regarding legal issues.
Before the RIF, I knew the union worked to ensure members had the best possible pay, benefits, and so on, but I was unfamiliar with the inner workings of the local. It felt to me like ASTA just showed up to save your job when you did something stupid or encourage you to vote for a specific candidate or policy. The RIF experience changed that. It made me feel like there were actual people in my local who supported me and cared about what happened to me.
A few months after the RIF process ended, I was invited to an ASTA event and was blown away by what I saw. These educators were using their personal time to fight for the rights of their fellow members. It was eye-opening. I couldn’t help but think, “If I didn’t know about all this, how many other newer educators don’t know about this?” And even more, “How many veteran educators don’t know about this?”
I figured I needed to do something about how our own members see our local and the role it plays in their success, both in the classroom and in their personal lives. Now I’m involved with ASTA’s new online and social media committee, where I can use my skill set and writing experience. What better way to spread ASTA’s message than by developing an online presence that connects with our members and our community?
If we do this thing right, maybe members won’t just see ASTA as the custodian showing up to fix mistakes, or even the lobbyist trying to grab your vote. Maybe they’ll see ASTA as I see it: a source of support, a group of hardworking men and women who will do everything in their power to fight for members.
Work by ASTA ultimately helps our students. With good working conditions and wages and benefits, I can focus on the kids and my goal: to make them better writers, better communicators. Critical thinkers who can be civically engaged and do so in a civil manner. Those are the kinds of citizens we need right now, and those are the kinds of citizens we are going to need even more in the future.