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Member Profile: Koren Shelvey

If you want to know what relief sounds like, ask Koren Shelvey how she feels about getting out of the teachers union. 

“The biggest thing that’s changed since leaving the union is feeling a new level of freedom,” said Koren, who is a fifth grade teacher in the Woodland Hills School District in Pennsylvania. “There has been a lot in the press about what the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are doing, and the kinds of requirements they want for students in school. There is so much they try to control that you aren’t really free to teach the way you want to.”

When Koren became a teacher after raising her children she was excited to be in a classroom helping kids learn. She wasn’t necessarily looking forward to joining the union as a new teacher, but she didn’t worry too much about it either. But as time went on, she started to see how the union made things more difficult for teachers and students. 

Then, when Koren needed support, the union did not perform what is supposed to be its core function—standing up for its members. 

A couple of years ago, when Koren was still a union member, she reached out to her local union to ask for help with an issue she was dealing with. In Pennsylvania, teachers are not allowed to give special education students a failing grade. Koren knew this, so after she put her grades in, she double checked, and it appeared that they were put in correctly. 

She then got an email saying she had failed eight students and she needed to make changes “in order to avoid further disciplinary action.” The incident was also noted on her record. So, Koren reached out to the union to see if they could help.

Two union representatives attended a virtual meeting with Koren, but they said almost nothing and did not advocate on her behalf, she said. After the meeting, she contacted the local union president, and he didn’t make an effort to get involved either.  

“The union does a lot of complaining and moaning and groaning, but when a real issue arises, it’s too much for them to handle,” she said. “They acted like it was easier to just let it slide.” 

So, after a lot of consideration, Koren resigned from the union. 

“It was a relief when I left, because when you’re a part of that group you feel like whether or not you want to, you have to conform to everything they do,” she said. “They want you to wear red, and support everything they support. I’ve never been like that – a groupie who wants to follow the crowd. That’s just not who I am.”

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.