By Sarah Vandervort – 1st time delegate
The opening scene was filled with music and dancing, and an electric energy of comradery and support, as some 8000 delegates packed into the Walter C. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, to kick off the 95th NEA Representative assembly on the 4th of July 2016.
As we settled down from our excitement about beginning our important work, our energy quickly changed to sadness as our NEA president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, started her keynote speech, https://ra.nea.org/speech/2016/15489/, letting Orlando know that we were mourning with them. She continued painting a picture of a dangerous world, a world that needs us. “We are living under a toxic choking environment where entire groups of people are demonized, targeted, and terrorized.” She also painted a picture of hope, and strength, her closing statements being “We are fearless. We are warriors. We are what democracy looks like! Ya es tiempo. Now is the time. Go. Fight. Win.” And, as you could imagine, our spirits and energy returned and exceeded our initial feelings.
Amendments and New Business Items
Although we had already met as a state for a day and a half, an air of resolve filled the convention hall as the importance of the next four days quickly set in. Our days started with the 6:30 AM breakfast and the NJEA caucus where we decided OUR stand on major issues such as over testing, LGTB rights, immigration issues, and more. Then it was a subway ride to the RA, our days were filled with making amendments to our NEA constitution and by-laws, as well as introducing New Business Items. The New Business Items come from members like us,and determine NEA’s focus and budget for the upcoming year. NEA’s budget comes from OUR dues money, making it imperative that we decide how the money is spent! We were all there to support our students, no mater their race, color, gender orientation, or sexual orientation, and it became clear that a large portion of the RA would be focused on fighting against the fear and divisiveness that is so often intertwined in our political system. After discussion and friendly debate, educators decisively and repeatedly voted to fight for social justice and unity. Delegates also took a stance on current curriculums across our nation so that our students are exposed to more accurate accounts of history and acknowledgment of global warming.
Links are provided below to see amendments and a comprehensive list of the new business items that were presented and adopted:
• Amendments: https://ra.nea.org/business-items/?type=leg_amendment
• New Business Items: https://ra.nea.org/business-items/?type=nbi
Hilary Clinton Addresses the RA
Hilary Clinton’s message was strong. In her speech she stated “I am with you,” outlining her vision on how to strengthen public education, “TLC”- teaching, learning, and community, the pillars on which her vision is built. She also noted the stark difference between her plan and the plan of republican candidate Donald Trump, stating that he will dismantle the DOE, “leaving our most vulnerable students to fend for themselves.” She wrapped up by imploring us as educators “to work with me. Advise me, hold me accountable. And keep advocating for your students and profession.” And although there were many delegates who did not say “I’m With Her” at that point, everyone appreciated her presence and enthusiasm.
Strong Union Equals Strong Schools
NEA’s executive Director John Stock’s speech emphasized the connection between strong public schools and a strong union. Focusing on the need for the newest educators to become members and become active, stressing that their voices need to be heard. “We must become relevant to them, to help them meet the changing needs of students… to help them be successful educators, and to tap into their idealism.” “We could feel the Bern”!https://ra.nea.org/speech/2016/remarks-prepared-delivery-nea-executive-director-john-stocks-95th-nea-representative-assembly/
Against the School-to-Prison Pipeline
NEA vice president Rebeca S. Pringle and NEA Executive Committee Member Kevin f. Gilbert gave a presentation about institutional racism. Encouraging members to vote yes to a policy statement that would combat the school to prison pipeline. “Gilbert stated, “we have an opportunity to be leaders… and steer our students away from criminal punishment and toward the success we all wish for them.
National Teacher of the Year
2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes gave a powerful and emotional speech about how her own teachers transformed her life and how we all have that power. https://ra.nea.org/speech/2016/remarks-prepared-delivery-national-teacher-year-jahana-hayes-95th-nea-representative-assembly/, “I know that for many of my students I am their only hope. It is those times when I am transformed into an advisor, counselor, confidant and protector I have made the commitment to help my students in the same way my teache3rs helped me.” She also stated the importance of our organization. “As a teacher, I am so emotionally invested in the success of my students that I sometimes forget that I deserve the r4espect and dignity of being a professional. [My union] ensures that I am treated like the professional that I am and my creativity is not stifled by mandates. My union advocates on my behalf and creates a structure that protects me…” If you click ANY of the blue links at all, click this one…you will be inspired.
Friends of Education Award
Senators Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, and Patty Murray, of Washington State, earn NEA’s highest honor- the Friends of Education Award. This is awarded to a person who has significantly contributed to the improvement of American public education. Alexander, the first republican to win this award in over 40 years, called for us to take a stand and say “no more Washington mandates telling us exactly how to evaluate teachers and whether schools are succeeding or failing. The path to better schools is through decisions by those closest to our children, not through a distant department in Washington D.C.” Murray stated “I look forward to continuing to work together so that every child in our nation has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.”
Thank you, EWEA members, for affording me the opportunity to attend the 2016 NEA/RA. It was exhilarating, exhausting, uplifting and…I can’t wait to go again!