2012 NEA Representative Assembly Wrap-up
NEA Educates America!
2012 Representative Assembly challenges members to stand united
and fight for their profession and the middle class.
By Will Potter and Tim Walker
If public education is to remain a basic right for every American child, rather than a privilege for the wealthy, educators will have to lead their profession not just in their schools but also in their communities and in political campaigns. That was the recurring message from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki, and the more than 8,000 educators attending the 2012 National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly (RA) in Washington, D.C., July 2 — 5.
In his keynote address, Van Roekel set the tone, asking NEA members to use their collective power to raise the level of preparation for those coming into the profession and improve the practice of veteran educators. He also demanded that all educators—including Education Support Professionals (ESPs)—receive the professional development and support they need to help all students succeed.
“We are 3 million strong, and we have the greatest power in the world—the power to change lives. So let’s use that power. Let’s use our power to make public education stronger…to make our nation a better place, moving ever closer to our great and noble ideal of equal opportunity—not just for a fortunate few, but for every single child.”
Teacher of the Year Mieliwocki discussed the power teachers have to shape their students’ lives. Mieliwocki, who teaches English at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, California, told delegates she is proud to represent teachers. “So here I stand, one teacher symbolizing millions,” she said. “One imperfect, enthusiastic, hard-working, and committed example of the millions more just like me. One voice to stand for all of us….”
Judy Near, an elementary school health technician from Colorado, is NEA’s ESP of the Year. She urged educators to take control of their profession through leadership roles. “To lead you just need a vision, hope, and inner strength to believe you can change things,” Near said.
And that means leadership both inside and outside the classroom. At a time when public education is under attack by right-wing politicians, educators’ involvement in fighting for their profession and the middle class is critical. As the 2012 election draws near, the stakes couldn’t be higher, and the choice couldn’t be clearer.
Speaking on the second day of the RA, Vice President Biden, who attended with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, warned the delegates that the “full-blown assault” they are experiencing would get much worse under the leadership of Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney’s attacks on teachers and public education are fundamentally attacks on the middle class, Biden said.
“My Dad used to say, ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget,’ ” Biden said. Gov. Romney and Republican Congressional leadership “have shown us their budget,” Biden said, and it is about protecting the interests of the super rich rather than building an education system that helps all students succeed.
President Obama echoed this message when he spoke to the RA via phone from his Midwest bus tour. “Romney’s vision of education is a system that only benefits the richest Americans,” Obama said. He added that the power of public education is its potential for personal growth and collective progress. “You can’t help the American people,” he said, “without helping education.”
The activist role of educators extends far beyond electoral politics, however. At the RA on July 4, new NEA Executive Director John Stocks urged educators to become “social justice patriots.”
With the emergence of voter-suppression laws, growing income inequality, and new forms of racial discrimination, said Stocks, NEA members must commit themselves to working for social justice and equal opportunity.
Also during the RA, Paul Krugman, renowned economist and author, received the 40th Annual Friend of Education Award for his work advancing the
dialogue of education inequality and the importance of teacher quality and student success. Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota was named “Greatest Governor,” an annual award recognizing governors who have made major, state-level strides to improve public schools.
The meeting also highlighted four union-made, union-led programs in Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, and New Jersey in a “Leading the Professions Forum.”
“Teachers and ESPs are doing phenomenal work around the country,” said NEA Secretary/ Treasurer Rebecca Pringle, co-hosting the forum with NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen. “And we as an organization have to find the best ways to support them.”
This past summer, the 2012 RA adopted two new resolutions on collaborative partnerships (Resolution A-5) and teacher career paths (D-11). The RA also approved amendments to existing resolutions recommended by the NEA Resolutions Committee and additional amendments submitted by delegates on the RA floor.
Read about additional action taken by delegates and the complete 2012 — 2013 NEA Resolutions document at www.nea.org/2012Resolutions.