Education and Politics
Nancy Copenhaver retired from her position as a high school business teacher in 2000, but hasn’t scaled back at all in her lifelong commitment to political activism. She was steeped in politics at an early age by her mother, a social studies teacher, and her father, a public official whose successful re-election campaigns left quite an impression on the young Copenhaver.
Throughout her 28-year career in the same school district in Moberly, Missouri, Copenhaver was a leader in the teaching community. She served as her school’s department chair and held just about every position at her local NEA chapter. She became more and more active in local, state, and national politics when she saw how changes in education policy affected teachers’ ability to do their job. “I realized that I had to get involved,” she says. “If I didn’t, who would? Somebody has to be a promoter of public education and all that teachers do.”
Taking this call to service to heart, Copenhaver served on the planning and zoning commission in Moberly for 15 years, sat on the city council for four years, and served in the state legislature for two years. After her district boundaries were redrawn, Copenhaver lost a tight reelection race by just 56 votes. Next, she worked for the county commission and served again on the city council, a position she holds today. She continues her leadership in education as the retired member of the Missouri NEA Board of Directors.
Copenhaver urges other retired educators to get involved in politics and advocate on behalf of current teachers and their students, whether they’re writing letters to the editor, getting involved in political organizations, or running for office. “It’s up to us who have the time and energy to do it,” she says, “to be active politically and protect public education for the teachers and kids.”
Fitness + Nutrition + Boogieing = Good Health
“We play songs by Barry White, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson, and boy, you should see these seniors get up and shimmy!” exclaims NEA-Retired member Mozell Robinson. Boogieing to classics like Michael Jackon’s “Thriller” has become a mainstay for her Monday and Friday mornings as she teaches group fitness to about 30 seniors at her local recreation center in South Carolina.
After a successful and rewarding 38 years of teaching second and third grade in Chester County, South Carolina, Robinson has taught group fitness classes to senior citizens for the past 11 years. A senior herself, she sets a fine example of staying healthy and active. “Every little bit of exercise you do helps,” she says. “Seniors often enjoy helping others, but they must also do something for themselves. By eating right and exercising, we can control our health and our self esteem.”
Robinson’s love for health and fitness came during the latter part of her teaching career. At 45, she made a conscious decision to improve her fitness level and eating habits after her father passed away from a heart attack brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle. As for her diet, she avoids red meat, fried foods, and soda, opting for fresh foods straight from either her own garden or a local farmers market.
Stereotypes of older people being frail and senile also hold seniors back, she says. “I see too many seniors who take handfuls of pills and medication; if they were more active, they wouldn’t have all these problems,” Robinson says. She acknowledges that sometimes, seniors have difficulty finding time to do things for themselves.
“Sometimes, they may be too proud to ask for help. But older people need something to have as their own. We need to help and protect our seniors.”