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Why I Belong

NEA: More Than Just Health Insurance

By Brenda Álvarez

You may have caught one of those late-night television show reruns of Little House on the Prairie with Miss Beadle. She donned a bonnet, wore a long skirt and bodice-blouse, and taught in a one-room school house. She was the sole teacher of multi-aged school children. Her sparsely decorated classroom was filled only with the basics: blackboard, chalk, a few books, and slates for students to write on.

Fast forward to the 1960s, when segregated schools were the norm, female educators were paid less than their male counterparts, and married women were forced to leave the profession for starting a family.

“You had to quit teaching when you were five months pregnant,” says Bonnie Davis (pictured left), a 30-year retired English teacher from Missouri who started teaching in 1967. Back then, says Davis, “women weren’t capable of working when pregnant—just like women were the weaker sex for all these different things, pregnancy was one of them.”

Since its founding, the National Education Association has defended the rights of public school students, educators, and the profession. Today, the NEA continues to advocate for great public schools for every student. But, that’s not all.

“My local association allows me to be with people who care about the same things I care about, show strength in numbers, and have our voice heard freely,” says Cheryl Welke, an eighth-grade civics and economics teacher, who has taught for six years at Sterling Middle School in Sterling, Va.

Cheryl Welke, who teaches eighth-grade
civics and economics in Sterling, Va.,
joined the Loudon Education Association
so she could make a greater impact
with students.

Welke explained that her local association, the Loudoun Education Association, is also about solidarity and networking, collaborating, and seeing the different viewpoints from educators all over the city, state, and country. Furthermore, “the local association allows you to make a bigger difference at home,” says Welke, referring to policies that directly impact students and schools.

And there are even more benefits from being an Association member.

Professional Development

The demands on educators to learn new skills and teaching methodologies have increased dramatically, as students come to the classroom with varying skill sets and needs. For example, many students as young as age five now masterfully work an iPad or smartphone. Other students come to the classroom speaking a language other than English.

This is where professional development comes in handy. NEA offers a wide range of professional development programs through state affiliates and online continuing education courses. The NEA Academy is one example of professional development that provides K–12 educators with practical online courses in the curriculum areas of foreign language, English language learners, instructional technology, special education, science, math, and performing arts—just to name a few!

Collegial Support

The days of teaching in seclusion are over. Research shows that educators who have a strong cross-curricular team in their school can draw on support and expertise that can benefit practice and student learning. This type of collegial support is available through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), a concept that is often included in the collective bargaining agreements or policy requirements of local education associations that are able to bargain over additional planning time.  PLCs help to build the capacity of school staff through collaborative planning time, allowing educators to share their learning, discuss strategies that work, and tweak those that don’t. This way, students receive targeted instruction that helps increase student achievement.  

The creation of PLCs is no accident. Local education associations can often bargain for additional planning time through collective bargaining agreements or policy requirements. 

Political Power

In the last several years, public education in America has been under attack. Some elected leaders are attempting to strip away collective bargaining, while many so-called education reform groups are advocating for education policies without much proof of success, such as school choice, privatization, and unrealistic accountability systems.

With 3 million members, 51 state affiliates, and 14,000 local affiliates, NEA has the power to influence local, state, and federal elections, and laws that impact public education. Through political activism, members show up to the polls in large waves to support pro-public education candidates and policies. Recent wins include the reelection of President Barack Obama, and House and Senate races where key education issues, such as college affordability and early childhood education were at stake.

For more than 150 years, the Association has developed many programs and services—some of the best in the nation. But if that’s all you think the Association is, the picture is incomplete. NEA membership allows for those who know best—educators—to lead the profession by improving their practice, and in turn, improving the lives of thousands of students.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel says it best: “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.”


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