Keith Williams – Full Bio
Meet Keith Williams
Keith Williams is a Lancaster County native and worked 21 years as a Pennsylvania public school English teacher before joining Americans For Fair Treatment as state director in June 2018. He double-majored in English and Education at Geneva College, and worked with at-risk kids while at university.
“Every English teacher I had in high school was a positive experience,” he said of his decision to pursue a career in public education. “I knew I wanted to teach and enjoyed interacting with and mentoring kids.”
After three years of short and long-term substituting in and around eastern Lancaster County, Keith joined the English department in 2000 at New Oxford High School in Conewago Valley School District. For 13 years, he taught a unique, 11thgrade experiential ed. course entitled Wilderness Literature, which focused on cultural and literary perceptions of the wilderness and outdoors from Biblical through Romantic and Transcendental works.
Keith’s coursework involved taking students on extended weekend trips to venues such as theon the Appalachian Trail. There, students re-lived the winter experience of authors like Henry David Thoreau by relying on a wood stove and functioning without electricity or running water. Other wilderness literature destinations included 10 to 12-day field study excursions to the Pacific Northwest and Acadia, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks.
Keith’s initial interaction with teachers’ unions was typical for many early-career educators: “I remember my first year of teaching, on my first in-service day, a teacher took me aside and said, ‘You need the union because they’ll protect you and they have the professional liability insurance you need.’”
He joined the union but left after only a year.
“I knew that the union’s values – particularly at the state and national level – weren’t at all representative of my beliefs,” Keith explained. “They were willing to sell anything and everything out for more pay and benefits. I was being asked to choose between legal protection and moral and ethical decisions I didn’t support, which were ultimately more important for me.”
Keith became active in reforming how teachers’ unions work when the local at Conewago Valley, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), negotiated fair share fees for non-members in their 2013-14 contract. About 45 teachers, including Keith, were suddenly required to contribute some $450 each year to a union they had declined to join.
Keith and his fellow teachers were stunned—and outraged.
“I realized how powerful public sector unions had become,” Keith said. “That a political organization could take your money—anyone’s money—and use it to further their agenda in what we call a free society is a scary place to be.”
Keith and his colleagues refused to sit back, however. They publicized in local media and statewide how the new agency-shop arrangement at Conewago Valley was infringing on the freedom of association of dozens of teachers. The diverse group, which consisted of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, complained to union local leaders and the school district’s administration about being forced to financially support a union.
Within two years, the teachers’ public outcry had worked. Despite pressure from the PSEA to continue with forced dues, the local union agreed to drop the agency fees in the next round of contract negotiations. Keith and his colleagues were again free to teach.
Now Keith wants to empower teachers and other types of government workers across Pennsylvania.
“The role of Americans for Fair Treatment, and its projects, Free to Teach and Free to Serve, is to help workers in that moment where the union is overstepping,” Keith explained. “It’s a big question in such a situation—where do you go? We are a resource for people to go to when they’re being bullied by a far-too-powerful political group.
“Our role is to advocate for people who feel their voice has been taken away. I know how many conservative and independent, limited-government teachers there were in my own school, and I’ve met many others from other schools. There are a variety of political views in any workplace, including public schools.”
Keith has also coached track & field and cross-country throughout his career, and was involved in search and rescue efforts in New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In addition to his packed schedule as an educator and coach, Keith also built a successful home inspection company and coaches business owners in the skilled trades on marketing and business development. He lives in Adams County with his wife, also a teacher, and three children.