Pros and Cons of Joining a Teachers Union

Teacher helping student with digital tablet. LWA / Getty Images

One decision that a new teacher may face is whether or not they should join a teachers union. In some cases, it is not a choice at all. In eighteen states, it is legal to force teachers to support a union by requiring teachers who are not members to pay a fee to a union as a condition of continued employment. Those states include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.

In the other states, it becomes an individual choice as to whether or not you want to join a teachers union. It ultimately comes down to whether or not you believe the pros of joining a teachers union outweigh the cons.


There are many valid reasons that you should consider joining a union. Those can include:

  • Teachers unions can provide legal protection and advice. In today's lawsuit-happy society, this protection alone can be worth becoming a member.
  • Teachers unions provide support, guidance, and advice. Most teachers unions have a helpline that its members can call to seek counsel in a variety of areas.
  • Teachers unions allow you a voice in hot educational trends, debates, and topics that you feel strongly about.
  • Joining a teachers union gives power to the bargaining position of the union for contract and labor negotiations.
  • Teachers unions provide several discount program opportunities, including life insurance benefits, credit card opportunities, mortgage assistance, etc.
  • They often offer terrific professional development opportunities for members.

Even if you live in a state where they cannot legally force your hand to join a union, you may find yourself being pressured to do so by other teachers. This is because teachers unions are a powerful entity. There is strength in numbers. The more members a union has, the bigger voice they have.

Unions to Join

Deciding what union you join is typically dictated by the district in which you work. Usually, when you join a local union, you join the state and national affiliated with that union. Most districts are entrenched with one affiliate and so it can be tough to join another one. The two biggest national unions include:

  • National Education Association (NEA) - It is the largest education union in the United States. It is typically referred to as Democratic in its ideology. It was formed in 1857.
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - It is the second largest educational union in the United States. It is typically referred to as Republican in its ideology. It was formed in 1916.

Not Just for Teachers

Most teachers unions offer membership to a variety of roles within schools. Those include teachers (including higher education faculty/staff), administrators, educational support professionals (custodians, maintenance, bus drivers, cafeteria personnel, administrative assistants, school nurses, etc.), retired teachers, college students in education programs, and substitute teachers.


In states where you are not essentially forced to join a teachers union, then it becomes an individual choice as to whether you want to join a union or not. There are several reasons that an individual may not choose to join a union. These include:

  • You don't agree with union politics. As mentioned before, the NEA is typically a Democratic association while the AFT is typically a Republican association. Sometimes individuals do not agree with those political stances or a particular stance the union takes on an issue that often does not have anything to do with education. Teachers who have political views contrary to the positions taken by unions may not want to support the union.
  • Union fees are expensive. Most teachers are already cashed strapped, particularly first-year teachers. Every little bit can help, so many teachers feel like the value of joining a union and its benefits are not worth the monetary costs.
  • You don’t believe you need it. Some teachers believe that they do not need the services provided by a teachers union and that there are not enough benefits to warrant holding membership.
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Meador, Derrick. "Pros and Cons of Joining a Teachers Union." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Meador, Derrick. (2020, August 27). Pros and Cons of Joining a Teachers Union. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "Pros and Cons of Joining a Teachers Union." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).