On Sunday, in her keynote address to the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in Chicago, NEA President Becky Pringle delivered a stirring message of hope, resiliency and commitment to the nearly 6,000 educators in attendance.
“You have to act as if were possible to radically transform the world, and you have to do it all time,” said Pringle, quoting writer and educator Angela Davis.
Without hope for change, change is impossible. “We must share that view Professor Davis holds dear: Whether it is a mind, a heart, a school, a community, or our world: transformation is always possible!”
The challenges facing educators, students and communities today are real and many: Crippling educator shortages. A lack of professional pay. An ongoing assault on curriculum that honestly confronts this nation’s history of racism and openly celebrates LGBTQ+ people.
And still, despite these challenges, “you’ve embraced your role as the voice of education professionals; you understand that our work is fundamental to this nation, so you have accepted the profound trust that has been placed in us,” Pringle told RA delegates. “You have found a way to resist, even as you hold onto joy.
“Courageous and creative.
“Prepared and persistent.
“You stand in the power of NEA—and NEA stands in the power that is you!”
Living through Joy, Justice and Excellence
This past year, Pringle’s second as NEA president, she traveled across the nation—from California to North Carolina, Arizona to Alabama—to meet with NEA members and see the amazing work done by educators, for students. She mentioned a few of those stops during her speech Sunday.
For example, in Forsyth County, N.C., North Carolina Association of Educators members are training, teaching and mentoring high school students to become educators. In Wilmington, Del., where Pringle spent this year’s National ESP Day—a day dedicated to the nation’s paraeducators, school office employees, cafeteria employees and other education support professionals—she learned how educators are supporting students who have survived trauma.
These are places where justice is an action, not a noun, and where joy and excellence are practiced and modeled.
“There are so many more examples I witnessed, and so many more I haven’t,” said Pringle, “that demonstrated how you are answering my call to lead a movement that unites not just our members, but this entire nation, to reclaim public education as a common good, and then transform it into something it was never designed to be—a racially and socially just and equitable system that prepares every student, every one, to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world.”
The Work that Awaits
This vision for a racially and socially just system—one that works for every one of our students—can’t be realized without the advocacy and activism of educators, Pringle told delegates. “The rights that many of us spent a lifetime fighting to secure are being stripped away,” she said.
The Supreme Court is moving Americans away from religious freedoms and toward school prayer; away from universal public education and toward public funds for private school vouchers; away from reproductive rights and toward the reversal of women’s rights, workers’ rights, and the rights of LGBTQ+ people. In many states, our voting rights also have been narrowed.
“You knew these gut punches were coming,” she said. “I also know this: like me, you absorbed that punch, you stood up, and you got back to work!”
NEA members recently fought for bipartisan gun safety legislation—and won a new law that provides background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and other measures. The new law will certainly save lives, but it’s not enough, Pringle said.
With midterm elections around the corner, Pringle promised to use the power of the NEA to hold candidates accountable. Candidates who refuse to keep students safe, who refuse to respect and pay educators, and who willfully fuel the inequities that impact students’ ability to learn: “You will know who we are,” she promised.
She also exhorted RA delegates to commit to demanding safe, just and fair schools; to defending democracy; and to growing the union’s power.
“Every day, all day, we will stay centered in the work we have been called to do together. Every day, all day we will embrace our resistance as joy,” she said.
“And… we will prevail!”