AFT Public Education, the union’s oldest and largest unit, encompasses the AFT Teachers division and the AFT Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRP) division. More than 1 million members strong, this unit has become a major force for preserving and strengthening a national commitment to reclaiming the promise of American education.
It all began more than 100 years ago: A group of Chicago teachers, reasoning that theirs was a noble profession, organized themselves to share resources and build respect for the invaluable work they were doing. Those early efforts led to the birth of a national teachers union in 1916 that has been in the vanguard of every major advancement in American public education ever since.
The AFT led the fight to desegregate public schools, pass the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and establish due process laws and academic freedom for teachers around the nation. We have championed educational improvement for urban schools, students in poverty, students of color, English language learners and other historically disadvantaged groups, while also advocating for improving the status of the teaching profession through fair compensation, participation in decisions impacting classrooms, and the right to collectively bargain.
The AFT has organized school and college support staff since the early 1930s, when the first PSRP affiliate, the Education Secretaries of Chicago, was founded. Today, the AFT PSRP division sets a foundation for high-quality education by supporting meaningful professional development, promoting health and safety in the workplace, and demonstrating the importance of a strong and just work ethic in a bully-free environment. Most important is its commitment to safe and welcoming schools for students who deserve high-quality food programs; reliable school buses; clean, secure buildings; efficiently run offices; and well-trained paraprofessional staff.
Under the leadership of AFT President Randi Weingarten, the AFT Public Education divisions support our teachers, school staff and early childhood education members to improve the services they provide students; help strengthen schools through programs, advocacy and information; assist affiliates to develop capacity to build the union through the power of professional issues; and work with other AFT departments to ensure that our members’ needs are clearly articulated in AFT policy.
The AFT Teachers division organizes the AFT’s biennial TEACH conference; supports implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act; provides professional learning opportunities through the AFT Professional Learning Program, Share My Lesson and eLearning; facilitates the collaborative work of the Center for School Improvement; manages the AFT Teacher Leaders Program; acts as a liaison with other education and community organizations; and develops reports, commentaries and analyses to promote the AFT’s quality public education agenda. At the same time, the AFT relies upon rank-and-file members to keep leadership connected to the challenges our public school students, teachers and support staff face every day.
The steering body for the teachers division is the AFT Teachers program and policy council. It includes nearly 60 representatives from local affiliates nationwide and meets throughout the year to discuss and align the work of the division with those issues that make up the national AFT mission. Its counterpart, the PSRP program and policy council, includes 34 leader members from around the country who provide guidance and advice on new programs and services for PSRP members, helping to enrich the lives of members and students alike.