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President's Viewpoint

A Final Thought


The past six years have been a difficult period for the National Education Association. The financial crisis and weak economy took a heavy toll on public education, and political attacks on unions only made matters worse.

But as I approach my final days as your NEA President, I’m not dwelling on the difficulties we faced. Instead I find myself thinking of the many ways in which all of you stepped up, answered the challenges, and kept moving forward for the sake of your students.

As I had the opportunity to visit schools around the country, I met countless members who are doing exciting things…working together to improve their professional practice, reaching out to their communities to build partnerships, speaking out on issues that affect their students.

I have been inspired by your actions and impressed by your energy. Mostly, though, I’m grateful for your commitment to public education, and your conviction that it has the power to transform lives.

So in my final message to you, I want to thank every one of you who helped NEA build a solid foundation that will allow us to not merely protect public education in the future, but make it stronger and better for the students of America.

Educators know that homework is important—and we have done our homework. Thanks to all of your hard work, we have increased our capacity as an organization.

Our General Counsel’s office helped affiliates challenge policies that violate the rights of students and educators—in Colorado and Florida, New Jersey and other states.

Our Center for Organizing created Lighthouse projects around the nation, helping districts focus the resources of NEA to mobilize their members and people in their communities.

When the rights of our members were attacked in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, we stood with our affiliates and fought back. And while we didn’t win every one of those battles, we learned something from every one—and they all made us stronger for the next fight.

We launched the Education Votes Web site, and from that platform we built an army of dedicated activists who are passionate about public education. In 2008 we had 237,000 online activists—and remember, this was right before a historic presidential election. Today we have more than 662,000 online activists—almost three times as many as before.

Even more important, we are working to create long-term change where it really counts—in our schools and classrooms.

We are taking charge of our professions and empowering our more than 3 million members to put their great ideas into action.

Many of our state and local affiliates have pushed major initiatives to improve teaching and learning. Our ESP members have stepped up as well, leading the way on issues such as bullying and good nutrition. Our higher education, student, and retired members are powerful advocates for policies that help students and educators.

Our work and vision are coming together with resources like the Evaluation Toolkit, the Common Core Work Group, and Great Public Schools grants. None of these things would have been possible without you.

As I prepare to wrap up my career in this profession that I love so dearly, I can still remember my first day in front of a classroom. There was so much that I didn’t know then; but one thing I did know, and that has never changed, was the belief that education is more than a career—it’s the greatest calling in the world.
There is nothing I would have rather been than an educator. And there are no people with whom I would have rather spent my time than my fellow NEA members. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


Watch highlights from Dennis Van Roekel's presidency, plus messages of thanks for his service


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