Here's a confession that will enrage many a teacher:
"In 14 years of teaching I never joined a Union"
I never saw any evidence in all that time to convince me that the motley collection of Teaching Unions (I can't even remember how many there are now; at least five) were not completely useless. The Government knows full well that the teachers do not speak with a united voice and takes full advantage of this, for example when the GTC was introduced.
I generally kept quiet about my non membership as I got bored of hearing teachers repeating the stuff they'd heard from other people, such as:
"What would happen if you ever had to go to Court if a pupil accused you of hitting them?"
The answer to this is that I would be quite happy to defend myself. (I've been to Court twice before and it's not exactly rocket science. I'm perfectly capable of saying; "I didn't hit Wayne") Alternatively I'd simply get a solicitor free on legal aid so long as I earned less than about £28000 per year. (Check for yourself here).
I think I'd rather be represented by Cherie Blair than take my chances with some solicitor reduced to a job with a teaching Union.
The other oft repeated line is:
"You're getting the advantages of all that the Unions have achieved for us"
To which my genuinely perplexed answer is: "Such as? I work in a dirty classroom without proper heating or ventilation. I get sworn at and threatened by pupils or parents every day and I have to pay £35 per year to the GTC etc etc."
On several occasions during what can laughably be referred to as my career, colleagues announced that they would no longer teach a pupil. This was usually when the pupil had behaved terribly for months on end, the teacher had done all they could and there was no backup from SMT. I was always willing to support them by refusing to take the brat either. Simple direct action like this always works and can help unite a department.
At the end of the day a Union is little more than the sum of it's members. If they aren't prepared to strike or take drastic action then their Union can't do much. Look at other Unions such as ASLEF, whose members fight tooth and nail. (Often for completely hopeless cases, but compare a train drivers pay with your own.)
If we had a single Union representing all teachers, that was prepared to strike over pay, discipline problems, SMT uselessness etc then I would have joined it like a shot but I certainly wasn't prepared to waste my hard earned money on a lame duck