A Field Guide to NEA Changemakers
Do you have a powerful voice, or is lending an ear more your thing? Do you love the spotlight, or prefer being in the background? Find out how to use your unique strengths to advocate for your students and take the quiz to identify what type of changemaker you are.
Books Can Change the World!
Discover books that can inspire young people to be changemakers.
Are You Biased? Yes, You Are.
Everyone has biases. Being aware of them is essential to creating more inclusive classrooms.
When the Bands Go Marching In
Drum up your team spirit, because marching bands are making a comeback.
The Truth About SEL? It Works.
Social and emotional learning has come under some political attacks. But educators and parents know it helps students thrive.
Education Support Professionals
ESPs Inducted into Labor Hall of Honor
ESPs have been honored for their vast contributions during the pandemic. Former NEA ESP of the Year Andrea Beeman spoke up for her colleagues at a U.S. Department of Labor ceremony.
Becky’s Journal of Joy, Justice, and Excellence
“As members of the American labor movement, we represent the very best of American democracy. And when we stand together as union siblings—unafraid, unwavering, and unapologetic—there is absolutely nothing that we can’t achieve.”
In the Know
NEA Report: A Culturally Sensitive Education Benefits All Students
Preventing students from learning about systemic racism is not only harmful to students, but could also be against the law.
That’s the conclusion of a report released in September by NEA and the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, a partnership of 300 law firms. The report presents social science evidence establishing why a culturally responsive and racially inclusive curriculum is the foundation of good citizenship and is beneficial for all students. Students who participate in these curricula are more academically engaged, perform better academically, and graduate at higher rates.
The report also notes that laws and policies that censor and punish educators for doing their jobs are not only misguided and harmful, but also unlawful. A handful of states have banned the discussion of so-called “divisive concepts,” including racism’s impact and LGBTQ+ identity.
NEA is supporting legal challenges to these misguided laws and hosting “Know Your Rights” seminars. For more resources, see NEA’s “Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide.”
“We will continue to defend the rights of our educators to teach the truth of our history to all students so they can reckon with the mistakes of the past and make our future more just.”
—NEA President Becky Pringle
Eighty-six percent of parents believe classrooms should be places for learning, not political battles. Seventy-four percent believe politicians, by pushing book bans and laws outlawing discussion about LGBTQ+ or racial issues, are using children as political pawns.
Source: Ipsos Poll, August 2022
Why We Need Strong Federal Nutrition Programs
Food insecurity among households with children hit a 20-year low in 2021, falling from 14.8 percent in 2020 to 12.5 percent in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The decrease points to the effectiveness of federal nutrition programs and the child tax credit, part of the American Rescue Plan passed in early 2021. The two-year implementation of universal school meals curbed child hunger during the pandemic. To help students get the meals they need, visit the NEA Action Center’s area on child nutrition: nea.org/child-nutrition.
Students need to pay—and borrow—more
An NEA analysis found that 32 states spent less on public colleges and universities in 2020 than in 2008, with an average decline of nearly $1,500 per student, when adjusted for inflation.
Classrooms are Getting Hotter
It might be hard to imagine now, but in a few short months, the weather will turn warmer and classrooms will start to get stuffy and hot—especially in schools with inadequate air conditioning. It will be worse when students return in August. According to the Center for Climate Integrity, a warming climate means 1,815 school districts—serving about 10.8 million students—will see three more weeks of school days over 80 degrees in 2025 than they did in 1970.
Research consistently shows students struggle to learn in hotter temperatures. This effect is more pronounced in communities with under-resourced schools. Students from low-income households are 6.2 percent more likely than their affluent counterparts to be in schools with inadequate air conditioning, and Black and Hispanic students are 1.6 percent more likely than White students to learn without air conditioning.
“The results confirm what educators have been sounding the alarm about for more than two years: The pandemic exacerbated existing gaps in opportunity and learning experiences between White students and students of color, as well as between well-funded schools and chronically underfunded ones.”
—NEA President Becky Pringle, in October, responding to the 2022 National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, which showed average reading and math test scores declined in most states.
Public Approval of Unions Highest Since 1965
The 71 percent of Americans who view unions with approval, recorded by Gallup in August 2022, represent a 60-year high. In 2009, approval had fallen below 50 percent.
Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank in Washington, D.C., said U.S. workers now see unions as critical to “fixing our nation’s broken workplace—where most workers have little power or agency at work.”
EPI also noted that anti-worker dynamics—including inadequate pay and compensation and subpar health and safety standards—pre-dated the COVID-19 pandemic, but the past three years exposed them.
Increasingly, workers are rejecting these dynamics and awakening to the benefits of unions.” For resources on how to use your union voice.
Issues and Action
Yes, we can end the educator shortage
By Amanda Litvinov
We know what caused the crisis of vacancies in public schools—and who’s responsible. It’s time to clean up their mess. The causes of the educator shortage are no surprise—among them are low pay, lack of professional respect, unmanageable workloads, and overwhelming student loan debt. We also know that these conditions are the result of a decades-long effort by some politicians and their wealthy backers to undermine public schools—and then privatize them.
Now is the time to commit to ending the crisis of educator vacancies. Yes, we know the remedies! And ill-conceived, short-term solutions like diluting teaching certification requirements and other hiring standards are not among them.
“Too often people want a silver bullet solution or will implement a Band-Aid approach. These shortages are severe. They are chronic,” says NEA President Becky Pringle. “And the educator shortages that are gripping our public schools, colleges, and universities will only be fixed with systematic, sustained solutions.”
Some politicians try to shift the blame from their failures: They have not delivered for students, and they have no plan for keeping great educators in the classroom. Their strategy? Distract the public from their bad decisions that have deprived public schools of resources for decades, and instead point the finger at educators.
It will take a powerful coalition of educators, parents, and elected leaders working together to clean up their mess. Read on to learn about some solutions to the educator shortage crisis.
Six Must-Dos to Fix the Educator Shortage Crisis
- Offer competitive pay and benefits. Fair compensation for all educators—including substitutes and education support professionals—means competitive salaries and paid leave. Compensate educators fairly when they take on new responsibilities.
- Improve learning and working conditions. Modernize school buildings so all spaces are safe and healthy, with reliable heating and cooling and clean water. In addition, schools should be well-stocked with supplies and equipment. Educators should not have to pay out of pocket for the things their students need to learn.
- Reduce educator stress. Increase staffing to keep class sizes appropriate and workloads reasonable. Fund programs that promote inclusive, responsive, and collaborative schools. Provide high-quality, accessible mental health supports for students and educators.
- Empower educators. Consistently include union members in decision-making at all levels of the public school system. Give teachers more autonomy over classroom practice and student assessment, and encourage parent partnerships to meet students’ learning needs. Repeal measures that force a “one-size-fits-all” approach or put politicians in charge of curriculum and planning decisions.
- Make student debt manageable. Expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and student debt cancellation efforts.
- Remove barriers to the profession instead of lowering standards. Abandon gimmicks and one-time hiring incentives, which don’t address staffing challenges or help retain highly qualified professionals. Encourage quality preparation programs that provide hands-on, debt-free preparation for aspiring teachers and educators who want to earn advanced degrees. Support mentoring and invest in programs such as teacher apprenticeships, “Grow Your Own” and teacher induction programs, and ESP certifications.
Students In Alabama Changing Lives Around the World
Throughout his 30-year career, Alabama’s Brian Copes has challenged his students to think innovatively—and far beyond the walls of the classroom. That mindset has taken them all the way to Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras, where the students have fit people with prosthetic limbs that the students made in class.
The project started with a guest speaker in 2010, who told Copes’ students about the need for inexpensive prosthetics. “The kids did some research and found out that 80 percent of all amputees live in developing countries,” says Copes, an engineering and career and technical education teacher at Chickasaw High School. “I said, ‘OK, let’s make inexpensive prosthetics.’”
Students used common car parts, transforming an engine mount into a knee joint and a metal pipe into a leg. In just a few months, they had developed a working prosthetic leg. A local artificial limb specialist fitted it onto a person with an amputated leg to see if it functioned properly.
Though the first model worked, it was extremely heavy. Over time, and with growing interest from students, the project continued.
In looking for a way to introduce plastic parts, Copes partnered with Albert Allen, a London-based entrepreneur, who purchased a 3D printer for the classroom. Soon, students were producing prosthetics for just $40 each, a fraction of the tens of thousands of dollars they typically cost.
Since 2012, Copes and his students, along with an artificial limb expert, have made annual trips to Latin America to fit amputees with new prosthetics.
Over the years, Copes’ students have also built three utility vehicles that have been put into use in developing nations: One as a school bus, one as an ambulance, and one to help drill wells for water.
“To me, it’s just exciting to see how a school project has grown and is changing not only my students lives, but changing lives of others around the world,” Copes says.
“A living wage for all employees, smaller class sizes, classroom aides, updated spaces, two planning periods for every teacher, enough room in support and alternative programs for all our kids’ needs. Full-time subs and translators in every building. Continuing free meals and health care access for our kids.”
—Christina Andrade Melly, Missouri
“An auditorium to do music performances and start a theater program.”
—Sheri H., Montana
“The return of world language instruction.”
—Kristine J., Wisconsin
“I’d have an actual classroom with materials that weren’t purchased in 1963. Right now, I teach in the cafeteria, or outside in courtyards with 100-plus degree temps.”
—Amelia J., Arizona
“As a special education teacher, fully funded special education would mean all needs met for each student and less teacher burnout. It is beyond my imagination what it could look like.”
—Candi L., Minnesota
“Well, to start, I wouldn’t be teaching five science preps in three different rooms off of a cart.”
—Kim L., Pennsylvania
“Enough mental health care for everyone who needs it.”
—Cassie Greenlee-Karp, Minnesota
We want to know what’s on your mind. We asked this question on NEA Today’s Facebook page and received so many great answers! Keep an eye on for our next question, and share this link with your fellow NEA members.
Teaching Native Culture
American Indian Studies Educator and Indigenous Education For All
Great Falls, Montana
My A’aniiih name is Bright Trail Woman. I am A’aniiih and Anishinaabe, two nations originally from the Great Lakes region. I am incredibly lucky to pursue purposeful work as a high school teacher and school leader, and to advocate for Indigenous people. At our school, students learn the truth about history and authentic Native American practices, such as beading and gardening with traditional plants. We work to provide cross-curricular and cross-cultural learning. In physical education, our students might learn how to shoot a bow and arrow and related physics and math. In English, students read books and poetry by American Indian authors. I want our American Indian students to walk through their lives with passion and purpose.
Help Your Students Make a DIY Podcast
My son and I started The Middle School Mind podcast in the fall of 2021 to give him a platform to express his (sometimes random) sixth-grade thoughts. At first, he wanted his own YouTube or Twitch channel to stream video games. But I had strong reservations about him posting online content that would include his name or image.
The project turned out to be so much fun that we wanted to encourage students and educators to do it, too. We created a tutorial that students can use to plan, produce, and publish their own podcasts. We also hope educators will use the online training to incorporate podcasts into their curriculum.
In a recent survey of parents and educators published by Kids Listen—an organization that advocates for high-quality audio content for children—nearly two-thirds of respondents said they had been listening to podcasts for more than one year.
The respondents said they listened to podcasts both for entertainment and educational value, tuning in to current events, history, or science and nature shows. Many parents said podcasts offer the added bonus of keeping kids engaged and off screens, especially on long car rides!
Meet The Middle School Mind
We go by “Father” and “Son” on our show to maintain a level of anonymity and privacy. This allows my son to speak freely and openly without fear of being judged, identified, or bullied online.
During our first season, we covered topics ranging from school resource officers to video games to a two-part episode where we interviewed middle school teachers (who also happen to be close family members).
How to get started
Podcasting can have a place in the classroom. It can give your students a platform and a voice, while maintaining their anonymity.
We started our podcast using Anchor, a free online platform. It was pretty easy to record, edit, and publish. There are many other platforms available as well, like SimpleCast, Podbean, or Vimeo, to name a few.
To create a podcast, all you need is a laptop and USB microphone. Here are some tips to help your class dream up ideas and plan their show:
Plan an episode. Students can improve their communication skills by identifying a topic, crafting an outline, and writing scripts to lay out their first episode.
Get creative. Students can brainstorm the name of the podcast as well as episode ideas.
Interactive segments are fun, too. On The Middle School Mind, we frequently end our episodes with short quizzes or “Would you rather …” questions. Students also have the opportunity to create unique episode cover art to display on the podcast website. The art should reflect their show’s personality and brand.
Record and edit. The Anchor platform, like many others, allows students to record their segments, insert stock music for introductory songs, and even transition effects to jump from segment to segment. Anchor also has built-in editing tools for students to cut quiet spots and splice a cohesive episode with multiple segments.
Try not to be prescriptive. Early on, I would pitch show ideas to my son and he half-bought into them. Those episodes weren’t nearly as interesting. The best episodes were all his idea.
This column was written by the producer of The Middle School Mind, who co-hosts the podcast with his 12-year-old son. On the show, they go by the pseudonyms “Father” and “Son” to protect their privacy. You can reach Father at [email protected].
You can do this!
If creating a podcast feels like a daunting task, don’t worry. These helpful resources have got you covered!
The Middle School Mind
The Middle School Mind published a three-episode series over the summer with a step-by-step guide to creating podcasts for kids.
Creating Podcasts With Your Students
Teachers Pay Teachers
Podcasting in the ELA Classroom
Common Sense Media
Parents’ Guide to Podcasts
Five Tips for Co-Teaching
By Hannah Gross
Co-teaching is becoming far more common as educators look to meet the wide range of student learning needs in their classrooms. Whether you are new to co-teaching or have a few years under your belt, it’s a good idea to consider how you can make the most out of a co-teaching partnership.
Often a general educator teams up with a special educator or other licensed professional in an inclusive classroom. This method is particularly effective when students have a variety of instructional needs, including students who are English language learners and students with disabilities. In other scenarios, co-teachers can bring different subject-area expertise to their shared classroom, such as English and history.
These strategies can help you create a fruitful co-teaching experience:
Both teachers in a co-teaching relationship need to be able to trust each other, even if they have different teaching philosophies or backgrounds. It helps for co-teachers to have a relationship outside of the classroom so there’s a strong foundation on which to build.
Get to know each other’s strengths, so you can lean on each other and make the most of your complementary skills. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that both teachers are there to support the students.
Present yourselves to students and parents as equals from the moment you’re given your class list. Create a united front by using “we” instead of “I” and putting both teachers’ names on all class materials.
Ariel Sacks, a co-teacher from New York, says that as a lead teacher, she makes a conscious effort to create openings for her supporting teacher to join class conversations.
Planning out loud or inviting your co-teacher into the conversation shows that both teachers have decision-making power and demonstrates the strength of the partnership.
Carving out time to plan is crucial. Expect to meet with your co-teacher for at least one hour per week to go over the curriculum and student progress. The more time you can set aside, the better.
If you don’t have a lot of common planning time, try using technology to communicate. Sacks suggests creating a shared, online working document for each unit or school year.
If it’s not possible to get together before giving out an assignment, make sure you both have access to the handout online, she advises. This will provide your partner with an opportunity to share modifications and tools.
Melissa Eddington, a co-teacher from Ohio, suggests that if there’s no planning time built into the schedule, co-teachers can eat lunch together to prepare and catch up on how things are going. Eddington and her co-teacher, Jennifer Wolf, also write notes to each other on a shared Google document.
Consider which model to use
There are several co-teaching models for planning and instruction. In one, a lead teacher works with a supporting teacher. Alternatively, both teachers may take on similar roles and responsibilities.
Don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to one configuration. Using a variety of models can help you achieve your lesson objectives and meet your students’ needs.
Think about the purpose of each lesson and how much planning time you have. On days when you don’t have much time to co-plan, it may make sense to have one lead teacher and another supporting individual students.
Be flexible When you have two teachers in the room, it’s important to be adaptable. Your co-teacher may have a different style or philosophy. Do your best to compromise. Pay attention to what the students need and adjust as you
“You can’t take yourself so seriously that you get upset when the lesson crashes and burns,” Wolf says. “Be able to roll with it.”
When co-teaching is done right, it enables every student to receive more attention—especially those who need it to meet their learning goals and succeed in an inclusion setting. It benefits students and teachers alike.
We Are All Changemakers
We have much to be grateful for as a new year gets underway. While we are still working to keep our students and educators safe and healthy, we are in a better place than we were last year and the year before.
This month, the impact of the 2022 elections is also coming to fruition, as new and returning lawmakers take their seats at the national, state, and local levels. In November, voters by and large rejected extremism and politicians’ efforts to drag culture wars into our classrooms and schools. Instead, pro-public education candidates earned voters’ trust by focusing on getting students the academic and social and emotional support they need.
Yes, educators have much to celebrate, but we are not yet at the finish line. We continue to partner with colleagues, fellow union members, parents, and community groups to turn these wins into action for our students. In our cover story, “A Field Guide to NEA Changemakers,” discover how you and every one of your colleagues can play a role in creating positive change for your students.
Recently, social and emotional learning (SEL) has come to the forefront, and sadly, has been exploited by extremists. In “The Truth About SEL? It Works,” read how SEL fosters student success, and get tips for the classroom.
Throughout these pages, you’ll also find exciting ideas and resources to support your work. In “Are You Biased?” learn how recognizing our own biases (we all have them!) can help you create a welcoming and inclusive classroom. In “Try This,” learn how to create podcasts with your students.
Also keep an eye out for helpful resources, links, and QR codes featured throughout the magazine. For example, in the story, “Books Can Change the World,” you can enter the Read Across America Sweepstakes for a chance to win free books for your classroom (contest ends Jan. 31). And in Resources, get ready for the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, Feb. 6 – 10, with lesson plans and materials for different grade levels. And finally, to join the conversation with more than 100,000 of your peers, text NEAToday to 48744.
These are just a few of the ways we can all make a difference. Whichever path you choose, NEA is here to support you. We wish you a fulfilling new year!
NEA In Action
Winning Healthier School Meals
With support from an NEA grant, Colorado’s JeffCo Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) negotiated a pilot program for healthier school meals. Working with community allies, JESPA is replacing junk food with scratch-cooked, culturally relevant options in school cafeterias. Hello, homemade burritos!
Apply now for NEA’s Student-Centered Bargaining and Advocacy Grants.
Election Wins for Educators!
In the 2022 midterm elections, voters chose candidates with a clear vision for how to sup-port public schools. They also rejected extremists who sought to politicize classrooms and
The election results could mean:
- Solutions to the educator shortage.
- Fully funding public education.
- More mental health supports for students.
- Better pay.
“When it comes to key education issues, parents and educators …turned out to support leaders running to strengthen public schools and expand opportunities for all students.”
—NEA President Becky Pringle
Coming Together to Win for Students
NEA provided Ohio’s Columbus Education Association with communications, bargaining, and organizing strategies that ended a three-day strike, scoring major wins, including:
Air conditioning and improved ventilation in all local schools.
- Class-size cap reductions.
- 4 percent annual pay raises for educators.
- More access to art, music, and physical education for students
- A groundbreaking parental leave program for teachers.
Demanding Clean Water
After a crumbling water system left residents in Jackson, Miss., without running water in August, the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) and NEA organized a rally where educators, parents, and other community members demanded safe drinking water.
- NEA and MAE donated 45,000 bottles of water to nearly 1,000 residents.
- NEA and MAE also raised thousands of dollars for educators and students.