Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.
Press Release

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Pamella Johnson, NEA Education Support Professional of the Year, to the 102nd Representative Assembly

Johnson addressed more than 6,000 NEA delegates meeting in Orlando July 3–6, 2023.
ESP of the Year Pamella Johnson raises her arms as she addressed the 2023 NEA Representative Assembly
Published: July 4, 2023

"From sun-up to well past sun-down, we work alongside a team of fellow educators – teachers, specialized instructional support personnel, and more – to ensure the best learning environment for our students, and we love it."

Good afternoon, NEA family!

My name is Pamella Johnson (she/her/hers are my pronouns) and I am an academic and behavioral intervention specialist from the great state of Washington!

I am also a proud “Mama-bear” to an amazing daughter Chauntelle, “Glam-ma” to two beautiful “glamdaughters,” Savannah and Carly, and “Coach J” to a team of 50 high school track students. I am honored to stand before you as the 2023 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year.

Education support professionals are critical to all that goes on in the school community. From custodians and clerical workers to food service and paraeducators, we keep our schools running and play a pivotal role to ensure our students get all the supports they need to succeed.

From sun-up to well past sun-down, we work alongside a team of fellow educators – teachers, specialized instructional support personnel, and more – to ensure the best learning environment for our students, and we love it.

Nothing makes me happier than saying “Good Morning” to my students as they come through the door, providing them with the nutritious snacks that fuel their learning, and waiting with them at the end of the day until someone picks them up and I know they are safe.

Our unconditional love for our students gives us the strength to keep working tirelessly even when the pay and benefits don’t reflect what we need and deserve as knowledgeable and skilled educators.

We are all professionals and we should be valued as professionals. Appreciation days and social media shout outs are fine, but it is time for school and district leaders and our elected officials to take action. We deserve FAIR pay and benefits....access to quality professional development...mental health care...and so much more.

I empower my students every day. My goal as ESP of the Year is to empower my colleagues to organize and advocate for our professional respect so that we can tap into our power as leaders of our schools, unions, and communities.

As the only Black woman from a small and rural local, I represent voices at the state and national level that are often overlooked or silenced. I want to make sure everyone has a seat at the table because representation matters—for ESPs, for all educators, and for my Black and Brown, indigenous, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and marginalized students.

When I first became part of the union, I thought it was only about bargaining for better salaries, and for health and safety, but it’s much bigger than that. It's about advocating for racial, social, and economic justice!

I wouldn’t be here today without Dr. Joyce Hawkins, aka “the Hawk.” She was my PE teacher, my track coach, and a second mother to me. It was tough being a female track coach in the 70s, but she always found a way to stand up for the girls, even if she didn’t have a spot at the meetings. And she didn’t do it for the praise. She did it because it was right.

Real change starts with education. It starts with continuous learning about our nation’s uncomfortable history, confronting classism, and ensuring our students receive an honest public education. It starts with equity and inclusion in every space that we fill.

It starts with being stewards of the communities where so many of us live and work . . . in being intentional and authentic in our relationship with our students and their families.

It also starts with reaching out to our colleagues, and bringing them into critical conversations through committee work and one-on-one connections. It starts with us standing united, lifting each other up, and improving the systems that bind us together. It starts with all of us and it needs to start now!

I am forever grateful for the connections I have made over the years. Along with Coach Hawkins, there are people who continue to influence me in this daily journey called life, including my mentor, the late Jan Watson, and dear friend, the late Isaac Daniel Johnson, Sr. (aka Daddy), and the entire Isaac Johnson Family.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my WEA family – my fellow delegates here in the room, State Vice President and fellow ESP Janie White, Vallerie Fisher, Antoinette Felder, Shawna Moore, Glenn Jenkins, Nache Duncan...and so many more who have been crucial in my journey to becoming a leader.

One of my favorite races in track is the 4 x 400 meters relay. You run your hardest, and then you pass the baton to someone else and come out faster and stronger afterward.

I want everyone here to think about a colleague who isn’t in the room with you today. How can you pass the baton to them? How can you pass on everything you have learned as an educator and a leader?

As I close I want to leave you the following words from civil rights activist John Lewis: “We are one people, one family, the human family, and what affects one of us affects us all.”

When I hear that quote, I think about NEA. I think about what is possible when we look after one another and stand in solidarity. Teachers alongside ESPs and SISPs…educators alongside parents…and parents alongside their students and the community.

We are the largest labor union in the country, and with all of us on the same team, I know we can make it through the race and be the most powerful advocates for children and public education.

Thank you.



Media Contact

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.