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Unions impact on teachers' mental health and well-being

“Unionism allows you a track to have your voice heard and to professionally push for the things that you value the most,” Sean Thomas, the executive vice president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said. “Once you feel like you can exercise your voice, you don't feel so much like the world is happening to you, but you have the feeling that what you do matters and that you can change the conditions you're in.”

Thomas is a teacher at Eldorado High School. He and fellow ATF member Sonja Kortsch said union involvement has benefited their mental health.

ATF is a union representing educators at Albuquerque Public Schools that aims to improve conditions in teaching and learning, according to their website and to ATF President Ellen Bernstein.

One of the goals of the union is advancing the power of teacher decision-making in schools, according to their website. Kortsch, a member of the ATF executive council and teacher at Bandelier Elementary School, once worked at a school that made her feel like she had no voice, she said.

“It just started to feel really toxic, like things were not very good, (and the principal) was very, very good at making you feel like you were the only one who was having these problems,” Kortsch said.

As Kortsch considered quitting previous her job, an ATF representative came to the school and informed her of her options to address the problems. Kortsch worked with her colleagues and the Union to change the policies of the school, she said.

“It really kept a lot of teachers in the profession because there was an outlet. You weren’t suffering and all alone. So I started to become more and more involved in the Union, and as I became more and more involved, my mental health started to improve,” Kortsch said.

Teachers involved in the union helped Kortsch find a new school that fit her teaching style and she believes the Union is important in fighting for the material she teaches, Kortsch said.

An increasing stressor for teachers is the tension between some parents and educators on the content of curricula, Thomas said.

“There is a fairly well-known social war over education, and teachers often get the blame … It’s one of those professions that’s just constantly under the public magnifying glass,” Thomas said.

Moms for Liberty, an organization based on excluding topics of race, gender and sexuality from school curricula, has a chapter in Bernalillo County. The organization was deemed “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in February.

The Union offers teachers the chance to defend their profession and move it forward through community, Thomas said.

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“When you're fighting alone, you feel isolated, you feel forgotten about, you don't feel like anyone's sharing your experience. You feel out of place, and sometimes that isolation and loneliness makes you feel like you can't do your job. The Union gives you an ability to work with amazing professionals, where you realize that lots of people are going through these issues, and that the fight is worth fighting,” Thomas said.

Lily Alexander is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @llilyalexander

Nate Bernard is a beat reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on Twitter @DailyLobo

Lily Alexander

 Lily Alexander is the 2024-2025 Editor of the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @llilyalexander 

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