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Breaking the Code

Newcomers are Not Born Knowing NEA Acronyms

Dave Arnold

Anyone who knows me knows I love the National Education Association (NEA).

However, those who know me really well know I occasionally get irritated with some of its members. At this moment, I'm having trouble with NEA speakers, presenters and discussion leaders who have an unhealthy fondness for acronyms.

They seem to think everyone in the audience knows every odd letter-grouping in the NEA universe. Sure, insiders know right away about the RA (Representative Assembly) and who is an ESP (education support professional). And most educators out there know all about NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act). Well, maybe and maybe not.

What's the RA?

A few years ago, at a Midwest region council meeting, our chairman was discussing upcoming business, stressing the need to prepare for the RA. This went on for about 15 minutes until a brave young teacher sitting in the back of the room asked, "What's the RA?"

This was the first meeting of the year attended by several newly-elected members. Association members and educators constantly use abbreviated terms and acronyms during presentations and speeches, which can be frustrating for the uninitiated.

One solution in the name of clarity is to explain all terms on first reference, then use acronyms to your heart's content on subsequent references. New hires and the general public will love you for it.

Deciphering NEA Code Talk

What might seem obvious to some is a mystery to others.  About 10 years ago, veterans of my state group, the Illinois Education Association (IEA), realized that new members might not be familiar with all the acronyms that were being tossed about at meetings. So, the Association published a booklet defining common acronyms. That was good, but it didn't solve the problem of "insider code talk. "

Those new to NEA and state Associations can also be confounded by business procedures. I have been an IEA member for decades and have never met a local treasurer who admits to fully understanding how the Association determines dues billing. They agree that it's fair and honest, but can be quirky too.

While I served on a state committee, I learned that three co-members were skipping meals because they couldn't afford the area's restaurants. No one had explained to them that they'd be reimbursed for meals and other expenses.

Limit Your Language Shortcuts

Every year, members are urged to take appointments to various state and national committees. Members are also urged to run for election as delegates to the RA, but they are not always told what is expected of them. Maybe background briefings should be presented before appointments and elections are final.

We have the greatest Association in the world. Each of us can help new brothers and sisters and the public better understand us if we limit our language shortcuts. After all, no one is born knowing this stuff.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.