The idea of organizing American workers to improve working
conditions and pay already was taking hold in the trades when, in 1857, a call
went out from the president of the New York Teachers Association on behalf of
10 established state associations. The invitation was to teachers across the
country to “believe that the time has come when the teachers of the nation
should gather into one great educational brotherhood...” With that impassioned
call to action, the National Teachers Association was born.
For public school educators in Maryland, coming together to
pursue common interests and goals started in 1865 when 60 teachers met to
discuss the benefits of creating a professional association. Six months later,
on a hot July weekend in Baltimore, they convened formally as the Maryland
State Teachers Association. In those first early years, members focused on
defining the interests of their group, electing officers, and holding the
annual meeting— not on public education policy, school quality, job improvements,
benefits, or pay.
But in 1904, at the group’s annual meeting in Ocean City,
Professor Irving Twilley revealed a political side to teacher interests when he
spoke of a hard-won hike in the state sales tax which funded the $250,000
education appropriation that year. Twilley thanked the hard work of “educational
minutemen … whose vigilance directed public school legislation.” Those “minutemen”
were two MSTA members and a friendly legislator.
A few years later, in a speech at the 1907 meeting, Dr. C.
J. France directed MSTA’s focus to student learning, with a prescient
commentary on pedagogy and differentiated learning styles, lamenting the lack
of flexibility afforded teachers in curricula and delivery. “Students [with
such challenges] are written down as blockheads,” France wrote, “and their
whole school life [is] turned into shame and bitterness.”
By the mid-1940s, as the influence of trade unions grew
across the nation, leaders saw the need to expand MSTA’s interests and respond
directly to the “strong arm methods” of opposing groups by organizing more
specifically around political issues that affected schools, students, and
teachers. It was around that time that the association embraced lobbying as the
way teachers could participate in a system that shut out front line classroom
teachers from the decision-making process. At the same time, MSTA expanded
other services, and purchased a blanket liability policy for members in 1956, a
benefit that endures today as an invaluable $1,000,000 safety net for members.
As times and the demands of public education have changed,
MSEA has evolved to become the center of advocacy for its members and the
students and schools they serve.