RNC Chair Steele Thanks NEA Republicans
By Tyler Miller
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 — Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spoke to Republican members of the National Education Association Wednesday, touting the importance of politicians listening to educators on matters like No Child Left Behind and thanking teachers for doing what he called “the hardest job in the world.”
Steele addressed nearly 150 teachers and education support professionals during the first full day of the Republican Leaders Conference at NEA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The former Maryland lieutenant governor promised to help quiet the political noise surrounding educational policy issues so more can be done to improve the quality of education in the United States. “I think the voices of teachers need to be raised just a little bit louder [in future legislative decisions] in saying, ‘This is what we need in order to educate your children as we move forward,’” he said.
For example, Steele called NCLB “a good idea poorly implemented.” Further discussion of the law must “include you in the discussion to get your feedback,” he said, garnering loud applause.
Stressing the importance of parental involvement in children’s education, Steele said parents must assist educators by emphasizing the importance of education to their children. His own mother worked long days for minimum wage at a laundry service but never failed to ask him each night if he'd done his homework, he said. “The education of your child doesn’t end at 3:30,” he said, drawing nods and applause from the conference attendees.
An attorney by trade, Steele recounted his year as a high school teacher at Malvern Preparatory School in southeastern Pennsylvania as “one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve ever had in my life” and one that shaped his opinions about the classroom.
Educators’ work is “fundamentally so important, it changes the nation, it changes the world entirely,” he told the audience. In sharing his admiration, he put to rest one myth about the profession’s grueling demands: “A lot of people don’t know teachers actually do work during the summer.”
Elected Republican National Committee chairman in January 2009, Steele is believed to be the first RNC chairman to visit NEA’s headquarters. About a third of NEA’s 3.2 million members identify themselves as Republicans.
“You’re all Republicans?” he joked with the crowd after taking the lectern. “That is absolutely freakin’ awesome.”
Steele began his 30-minute remarks by speaking about health care reform—an issue on which he has made headlines in recent weeks by butting heads with the Obama administration.
He encouraged audience members—who traveled from across the country for the conference—to get involved when they head back home.
That’s what attendee Karen Bell plans to do. “I’m going to use some of his remarks when I go meet with my congressman,” said Bell, an elementary school teacher in Hammond, Louisiana. Regardless of political party, Bell said educators need to be activists on behalf of public education.
The third annual Republican Leaders Conference is designed to engage NEA’s Republican members and equip them to advocate for public education. The conference includes workshops, networking opportunities, and lobbying visits to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.