American Federation of Teachers (AFT): Overview, Membership Requirements & Activism

American Federation of Teachers (AFT): Overview, Membership Requirements & Activism
Coming up next: Field-Specific Professional Organizations in Education

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 American Federation of…
  • 1:11 Structure
  • 3:31 Mission
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up


Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) provides many benefits to its members across the country. In this lesson, we'll explore the AFT, including how to join, the structure of the organization, and its mission and work across the United States.

American Federation of Teachers

In the first half of the 20th century in America, it was not fun to be an educator. Teachers were paid very little, and female teachers faced restrictions on what they could wear and do, even outside of school. For example, some contracts required that female teachers could only go on three dates per week and that they had to teach Sunday School at a local church.

In 1916, a group of teachers met in Chicago to talk about how to fix the problem of low pay and unreasonable demands on teachers across the country. They formed the American Federation of Teachers, often called the AFT, a union dedicated to fighting for teachers' rights. Their idea was simple: one teacher couldn't change much, but many, many teachers could fight together for change.

Since 1916, much has changed. The AFT has gone from a few educators in the room of a man's house to a major organization with millions of members and work across the world. Let's look closer at the AFT, including membership and structure of the organization, and its mission and work.


Let's say that you get a new job as a teacher in your local school district. How can you join the AFT? And what does it mean that you're a member?

Most teachers will join the AFT automatically when they get a teaching job. That's because the AFT has a specific structure that allows educators to join without having to directly apply. Essentially, when a person joins his or her local teachers' union, they are usually then automatically a member of a state organization and the AFT.

You can think about the structure kind of like a pyramid, with the largest organization at the bottom and the smallest at the top. It includes the following levels:

At the very top is you, the individual educator. Alone, there's not a lot you can do. You can't change laws or get teachers a pay raise by yourself.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account