I value interaction with my peers as an opportunity for professional growth, collaboration, and maintenance of my mental health. Historically, these functions were accomplished by means of team, school, district, state, and national professional organizations. I see the role of these traditional groups becoming more and more obsolete as Personal Learning Networks emerge as a powerful and efficient way to communicate.
At various times in my career as an educator, I have been a member of my national subject-area organization and my state-level group, as well. Initially, I joined these groups because I came from the world of science research where membership was necessary to keep up with current findings, network with others in my field, and successfully submit my work for publication. It never occurred to me that educational professional organizations might not serve the same functions.
In states with strong unions (I teach in a “Right to Work” state where unions lack the right to strike or negotiate salaries), big teacher groups are all but required in order to provide a counter-balance to money-minded districts. In most places, membership brings with it liability insurance and/or access to one or more publications. Also, most subject-area (or grade-level) organizations sponsor meetings once or more a year to bring together members in person.
As I read my email this morning and came upon another solicitation from the National Science Teachers Association to renew my membership, I had a realization. I don’t really need any of the services that they offer as part of membership*. The membership price had risen since last year, and yet I felt as though I was getting less value for my money.
I purchase liability insurance separately for minimal cost. I communicate with my peers (and then some) through Twitter, blogs, VoiceThread conversation, etc. I use RSS feeds and Google Scholar searches to stay abreast of the latest research. Meetings have exorbitant costs anyway, and many force you to join the organization as part of your attendance fee. In essence, all of the paid membership privileges of this organization (and many others) are available to me for free.
So, dear readers, please help me to understand. Am I missing something? Are there benefits to professional organization membership that I am not recognizing?
*Some, I am sure, will argue for the lobbying benefit of having an organization in the state and federal legislatures working for my interests. Perhaps it is my ethical and political leanings, but I find this type of work distasteful and inefficient. I don’t see this as a benefit.