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NEA News

NEA Aspiring Educators Ready to Make Change

NEA Aspiring Educators fully immerse themselves in trainings and celebrate the joys of becoming future teachers and union leaders.
Group of four Aspiring Educators in formal attiring celebrating on stage.
Published: July 2, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. Hundreds of future teachers from around the country met at NEA’s Aspiring Educators Conference in Philadelphia to connect with their peers, learn about their profession, and celebrate their wins.
  2. In addition to electing new leadership, the next generation of educators learned strategies to navigate challenges and stand with NEA’s vision to provide every student with a great public school.

College students preparing to become educators kicked off their annual conference in Philadelphia, from June 29 – July 2, with workshops that helped sharpen their skills in and out of the classroom. 

Many of the sessions centered on practicing leadership skills, learning strategies that increase student engagement, and incorporating antiracist teaching methods in the classroom. A popular session focused on paid student teaching and culturally responsive practice as a winning combination.

Last year, many Aspiring Educators (AE) across the country networked with their peers and lobbied lawmakers to get legislation passed that would offer pay to student teachers. Their efforts show much promise.

In January 2024, the Utah legislature passed a bill to pay student teachers for their time in classrooms. Approximately 1,400 student teachers are set to benefit from the stipend per year, which went into effect on July 1.

When school districts pay student teachers during a full year of clinical practice, those teachers are more successful with students and are almost twice as likely to remain in teaching more than five years,” said NEA President Becky Pringle during the conference. “That means districts save money on recruiting and costs to induct new staff.  These programs pay for themselves and achieve greater equity by ensuring a more diverse teaching force.”

Highlights from the NEA Aspiring Educators Conference

The three-day conference included a night of celebration and fun. During a special night, dubbed the GramAEs, many Aspiring Educators were honored for their hard work toward developing strong campus leaders and building robust chapters. The event also recognized the support from local advisors and state affiliate organizers, as well as the six Jack Kinnaman Scholarship recipients.

Reflections from Outgoing Chair

Two years ago, Sabreena Shaller of Pennsylvania was elected chair of the AE program and committed to use her “voice and our vision … to dismantle the systemic barriers in our teacher preparation programs and create an attractive profession.”

Sabreena Shaller looking directly into the camera, smiling with arms crossed.
Sabreena Shaller

The fruits of this labor are on full display, as she begins to close out her term, which ends on July 31. 

“Traveling across the country to meet with Aspiring Educator members has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time as chair," Shaller says. “When I was in the communities of our members, I saw Aspiring Educators leading the initiatives for paid student teaching, racial and social justice, and ensuring teacher preparation programs were equitable.”

Her time spent with members has proven that future teachers understand the need for advocacy and leadership and are ready to take charge of their future profession.

“They answer the call to help local food banks, volunteer at schools, host community literacy nights, and supplement professional development that they are not receiving in their teacher preparation programs,” she says. 

Her final words for the next generation of teachers: “I want them to know that the Aspiring Educators program [is] only the beginning [and] … marks the start to their leadership journey as educators. I also want to remind AEs that as they continue to stay involved in the NEA to also continue to reach out to Aspiring Educators in your state. Be the union leader mentor that you wish you had as an Aspiring Educator.” 

Aspiring Educators Elect New Chair

Hannah StClair was elected during the conference to serve a two-year term as chair of the AE program. An elementary education major and recent graduate of the University of Oregon (UO), StClair has been a long-serving member of the AE program and has served in various positions.

Hannah StClair with big smile while attending a ceremony.
Hannah StClair, chair-elect of the NEA Aspiring Educators program.

“My first week of college, as a freshman, I knew I needed to be around people who wanted to be change makers, who wanted to do something in the world and make an impact,” StClair says. “I didn't know how to build a community out of that passion and purpose, at that time, until someone spoke to my class.”

That someone was an AE member who was promoting the campus chapter and an event for people who were Aspiring Educators and who cared about making change.

“I was like, that's exactly what I care about,” StClair says, adding that she immediately joined the program. “I wouldn’t be here without the AEs who began our chapter my freshman year.”

In her time with the program, she’s served as the first president of her campus chapter and ran the first executive board election. At the state level, she worked to ensure a voting AE director was represented on the Oregon Education Association Board of Directors, and she helped established a self-governing AE statewide council, made up of members stepping into leadership roles. 

Future Goals

As she steps into this new role, StClair plans to continue the momentum of the last four years with paid student teaching. 

In addition to Utah, at least four other states have passed laws to provide pay to support student teachers: Maryland, Colorado, Michigan, and Oklahoma. (Oklahoma's program is supported by pandemic relief funds.)

“We are making the systemic change,” StClair says.

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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.