Harvard’s Journalist’s Resource site has a good tip sheet of a half dozen tips on covering teachers unions. A link to the full article is at the bottom. A couple of the suggestions caught my eye.
Get to know people in various levels of union leadership
Develop relationships with people in leadership positions within the local teachers union as well as the statewide teachers union (Illinois Education Association & Illinois Federation Of Teachers) and national union. They can help you understand different perspectives on the same issue. For example, if you’re covering teacher salary negotiations in a local school district, local union leaders can talk about problems within the district, the changes they’d like to see and how smoothly contract negotiations are moving forward. They can also help you arrange interviews with local teachers. Meanwhile, someone in leadership at the state level can offer a broad view of how contract negotiations are going statewide and how the local union’s experiences compare to other districts.
Be aware that union leaders at the state and national level tend to receive more media training. They might be more responsive to reporters’ around-the-clock questions and have information ready before a reporter asks for it. But they also can be quite savvy about using the news media to promote a certain message or cause.
Familiarize yourself with teacher pay systems
Teachers unions spend a lot of time and energy negotiating compensation. It’s important for reporters to understand how teachers make money so they can put union demands and the negotiation process into perspective. Reporters also need to understand key terms so they can differentiate between, for example, a “step increase” and an “across the board” salary increase.
Generally, teachers receive an annual base salary, but school districts also offer educators other opportunities to earn money. Depending on the district, teachers can receive raises — increases to their base salary — in multiple ways. A district can boost salaries, of course. This is sometimes called an “across the board” increase because it usually results in higher salaries for teachers at various experience levels. Districts also typically allow teachers, whose salaries are based on years of experience, to move up one rung of the salary schedule to recognize the completion of an additional year of service to the district. This increase in salary is a “step increase.” A third way a teacher can earn a higher base salary is by completing an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree.
In addition to raises, some districts offer teachers extra money if they earn optional certifications. Some districts give more money to teachers who agree to take on additional roles and responsibilities. Some districts give performance-based bonuses. Often, districts also offer what’s referred to as “supplemental” pay to educators who coach a team sport or sponsor a student organization.