Teacher unions are a hot topic and one that probably wasn’t covered in your college classes. Find out why they were originally formed, what collective bargaining is, and what’s covered in a contract.

Teacher unions are hard to miss in the news lately. Newspapers, blogs, social media posts, magazine articles, and political speeches abound with talk of them. Depending on whom you read or listen to — or whom you choose to believe — unions are either the reason reform has stalled or the reason change has happened.

The noisy back-and-forth among partisans can be both mind-numbing and confusing, often creating a good deal of heat and shedding very little light on an important topic. A little information, however, can help clarify things and provide a foundation on which teachers can make informed judgments and decisions.

This article offers a brief primer on teacher unions. How and why did they arise? What is collective bargaining? What’s in a contract?

This information is of most use to teachers who are or will be teaching in traditional public schools and districts. Most private school teachers do not belong to unions and are not covered by contracts. Some charter school teachers, such as those at Green Dot schools, are. Many others are not.

Let’s begin with a little union history.

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