I am an eternal optimist. As a small child growing up in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pa., running a classroom where the “students” were my siblings, I set my sights on a teaching career because it was my dream; what I believed to be my calling.
Today, as 2021 continues to unfold, I cannot help but lament the 12 months that have passed since the coronavirus pandemic changed the world as we know it. Yet, I’m reflecting on those changes with the same optimism I had as a girl. As educators, we are the eternal optimists. We approach our work every day from a place of hope.
I know—with an increased focus on equity and access, as well as racial and social justice—we will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, and the crises it spawned, with an even greater resolve to ensure our students get what they need, when they need it.
You, the members and leaders of NEA’s Aspiring Educators, are the foundation upon which I rest much of my hope. The mere fact that you are holding this magazine in your hands, or reading it in an app or online, says that you embody the characteristics of every NEA member, aspiring, active, or retired: You are tenacious, compassionate, and resilient. You are willing to face all sorts of odds as you live into your purpose of helping to guide our students into their brilliance.
Here’s what tells me that all of that is true: In the midst of a devastatingly difficult pandemic—one that has required public school educators to change and adapt more than ever, and do more than ever to care for their students, in the midst of keeping their own families healthy and safe—you continue to prepare to join a profession that was demanding and difficult long before the coronavirus arrived.
The year 2021 also marks a half-century since the 26th Amendment extended voting rights to 18-year-olds. To me, this milestone celebration is mixed with incredible pride for the way NEA’s Aspiring Educators stepped up, spoke out, showed up, and showed out to help elect President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and to make Dr. Jill Biden—an NEA member—our nation’s first lady.
Thanks to your hard work, we now have three partners who believe and trust us and support our vision of reclaiming public education as a public good. They have agreed to join our movement to transform public education into something it was never created to be: A racially and socially just and equitable system that’s actually designed to prepare every student—every single one—to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world.
As you continue to move toward becoming an active educator, know that for more than 3 million members of the nation’s largest labor union, and for the students whose lives you have and will touch, your presence, activism, and solidarity are key to a bright future.