- College students preparing to become educators gathered at the 2022 NEA Aspiring Educators Conference in Chicago to celebrate their future profession.
- Aspiring educators shared their reasons for wanting to become teachers in hopes of lifting the spirits of other educators, especially those who have felt exhausted and frustrated over the years.
- Meet the new NEA Aspiring Educator Chair!
Members of the NEA Aspiring Educators (AE) program kicked off their annual conference in Chicago with a hefty dose of joy, excitement, and inspiration. With so much stress and adversity within the teaching profession, future teachers came together to celebrate the resilience of all educators and to serve as a reminder why they first answered the call to teach.
On day three of the four-day conference (June 28 – July 1), AE members gathered to build a mural with large puzzle pieces. Each piece of the puzzle contained a personal, handwritten message with the member’s reason for wanting to become a teacher.
For Anesha Ward, a rising third-year student at Capital University, in Bexley, Ohio, she’s becoming a teacher to help better the world for everyone.
“Bad things continue to happen in [education, society, and our democracy], but children are our future. They will be the people who can change that,” says Ward. “I want to be a part of building that foundation, giving students the tools to be the best versions of themselves and help right the wrongs of the world.”
Ward’s first taste of teaching came at the age of 12, when she worked at the nursery of her church. Her role was to be another friendly face for the younger kids, particularly those with a disability.
“I was to be their friend, and I fell in love with that,” recalls Ward.
Like most teachers, both novice and veteran alike, she also experienced the feeling of those aha moments. “It brings me so much joy to see a student get the right answer or do something on their own, and then get excited about it,” says Ward, who is majoring in primary education, as well as intervention specialist education, which will set her up to work within special education.
This, along with other early teaching experiences, helped to solidify her journey into the profession.
“I worked with at-risk youth and with kids who had horrible family situations and seeing the look on their faces when the material clicked or accomplished something is what made me realize: I could see myself doing this … for the rest of my life.”
One message she wants K-12 educators to know: “We’re coming in droves, we’re not backing down from any challenge, and we’re here to support you,” she says, adding that members of the AE program are taking full advantage of their annual conference and trainings throughout the year to learn about the supports and resources of the NEA family.
Like Ward, many educators know from a young age that they want to be teachers. This was not the case for Marina Lagattuta, who started at the University of Pittsburgh, Greenburg, first as a biology major and then later switched to political science.
Teaching, she says, was “something I didn't know I wanted to do until I was directly working with kids.” The experience (and it’s a familiar one!) that put Lagattuta on a teaching path occurred when she was selected to work a summer school program near her college campus. She was paired with a group of high school students who were making up academic credits to meet their graduation requirements.
“I worked with at-risk youth and with kids who had horrible family situations,” she says, “and seeing the look on their faces when the material clicked or accomplished something is what made me realize: I could see myself doing this … for the rest of my life.”
Today, Lagattuta is a rising fourth-year student, majoring in secondary education with a focus on English literature. While she still has some time before officially opening her first classroom door, she is still fully aware of the challenges educators face. The issues that get her “heated” the most: The banning of books and the overhyped phrase of critical race theory.
“Educators want the best for their students, and they want to be able to broaden their thinking. You can’t teach students about different cultural experiences and backgrounds, empathy, or experiences that you have no knowledge about when we’re forced to abandon books. Some politicians want to scare people … [and] this is dangerous.”
Lagattuta is ready for her future profession, too.
“I’m not scared of the problems in and around education. I'm here to stay and am prepared to do what's right and to do what's necessary for the next generation,” she says.
As for her puzzle piece, Lagattuta’s “Why I Want to Teach” message would read: “For the younger me,” and explains that for her, school was both an escape and an unsafe space. It was her teachers, however, who helped her through the tough times.
She shares, “I fell victim to kids who were awful, mean, and rude, but I had great teachers who stuck up for me. Kids need people in their corners, [especially] when they might not have anybody else.”
With up-and-coming educators like Anesha Ward of Ohio and Lagattuta, the next generation of students will be in good hands.
NEW CHAIR ELECTED TO LEAD NEA AE PROGRAM
Cameo Kendrick of Kentucky has led the AE program since 2020, when she was elected to the more than 45,000+ member group, which represents 1,100 college and university chapters in 50 states. Elected during a global pandemic, Kendrick vowed to find ways to elevate Aspiring Educator voices. And that she did.
Her work through the AE program has provided incoming generations of educators with the tools, knowledge, and the community they need to succeed—pushing the education profession and education system into the future.
“I cannot even tell you how grateful I am for your thoughtful, insightful, passionate, and powerful leadership and partnership, and for your unwavering dedication to the aspiring educators’ program,” said NEA President Becky Pringle during the opening of the conference. “What you have done in two years in the middle of a pandemic … [is] quite extraordinary.”
Now, Sabreena Shaller of Pennsylvania will take over as chair as of July 1.
A recent graduate of Pennsylvania’s Millersville University, Shaller completed her degree in early childhood education (Pre-K-4) and special education (Pre-K-8). She held numerous leadership positions at Student PSEA and currently serves on the NEA Aspiring Educators Advisory Committee.
“I will use my voice and our vision to continue leading with aspiring educators across this country,” Shaller says. “We need to dismantle the systemic barriers in our teacher preparation programs and create an attractive profession. Public education is the cornerstone of our communities, and we must fight to ensure all students have access to the greatest tool in the world — knowledge.”