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Let's Give Them Something To Talk About

American Education Week is upon us again. A time for a little reflection.

    You and I know our schools having been getting more than a little negative attention. Some warranted, most not. But there is a lot more to schools and our work than the public or policymakers know and I think we can do something about it.

    Think about it. As an organization, as a union, as employees — we are in the thick of all of it. I believe being smack in the middle of everything is a good place to be — and as Education Support Professionals we are in a unique position. Think about AEW for instance. When the school halls and offices, gyms, grounds and classrooms need to get cleaned and spruced up for the week’s celebrations, ESPs are the folks mainly responsible for doing it. No problem. It is done every day. AEW just makes it a bit more special.

    It has been said that ESPs are often overlooked when we think of a student’s educators. I think that perception is changing, slowly but surely. We change it when we coordinate more with teachers in the classroom and at trainings to improve our skills. We change it when we make sure the district hears our call for more training and works to make it available. It will continue to change as more of us speak out about our work and make sure we are heard and seen in our communities and schools as bringing that thing called ‘value’ to the table and into the workplace.

    I know in these tough times some folks think it unwise to make too much noise and call attention to ourselves. Those times are past. I would advocate that for us, as a union and as community members, we must speak out more about our work and how it contributes to student success and our communities. We must tell our story.

    Today’s school support staff has talent aplenty and it should be recognized. NEA Research’s most recent Five Year report on ESPs shows that there has been a steady increase in members’ educational achievement from 1992 to 2012. More members are attending and completing college, and over these 20 years members with Associate degrees rose from 8 to 23 percent.

    All that education and training is not going to be lost to other jobs either. Most of us are committed to the long haul with our school jobs. We plan on staying in our communities — and with 75 percent currently living within the boundaries of our school districts, that sounds pretty good.

    That same study says that 85 percent of us intend to stay in the education support field. We members consistently rate the personal fulfillment we get from our work as the characteristic with which we feel the most satisfied - at 95 percent in 2012. That’s saying something! Seventy-five percent of us expect to stay in our current job until retirement.

    And even with time at a premium in this hectic world, our fellow members volunteer their support to a wide range of activities. About 40 percent support their local parent organization. Thirty-five percent read books to students. Twenty-three percent have lobbied for the benefit of education. Twenty-two percent assisted in a tutoring program. Twenty-one percent taught art or music and 20 percent coached in a sports program.

    I don’t have to remind anyone that economic times are tough. ESP earnings have not increased much over these past 20 years after inflation adjusting. Our average hourly wage was $15.73 in 1992 and it has stayed flat right up to 2012. In fact it is a pinch lower at $15.49 an hour.

    That hasn’t stopped us from our willingness to help students financially. The share of members giving their own money to a student for their needs — be it school supplies or food — grew from 61 percent in 2007 to 66 percent in 2012. The average amount given per year rose from $163 to $217. That’s fantastic.

    My thought as we head into AEW and the rest of the school year is for all of us to make sure our neighbors and communities know all of the above and more. To help you get started, review the NJEA community training video on the NEA ESP site.

    You can also find material to work with for this AEW by visiting the official NEA American Education Week site.

    Have a great week!


Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. He works in Brownstown Community School District # 201. But most Association members know him best from the editorials he has written for various NEA media properties since 2001.

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.