I love the union and everything about it. I particularly like how my union, the Illinois Education Association, works on social justice issues. When I want to learn how to better support LGBTQ students, for example, I look to my union for professional development courses.
Some people think the union is just about contracts and salaries—although that's very important—the union provides so much more that you can’t get elsewhere.
In IEA, the professional development is of the highest quality. It's never like other PD where you walk away thinking: ‘that wasn't very good.’ It's always well-done, and that’s because the training comes from educators who understand what it's like to be in the classroom. Unlike some of our legislators who pass education laws but have never stepped into a classroom and don’t understand pedagogy.
In 2019, I was selected to become a facilitator for NEA’s Leaders for Just Schools, which centers on creating safe and welcoming learning environments for all students, particularly students of color. We’ve slowly rolled out a training program within my state, teaching members how to grow their own program in their own districts.
At first, the response was so overwhelming that we couldn’t find a venue to fit everyone. We had to put people on a waiting list. Since then, we've expanded from three locations to about seven. And this is the union—all educators—at work to create better schools for our students.
This work is important because we have a lot of children from different backgrounds. I see how some become marginalized because we don't have enough experience teaching different groups. So, this program, Leaders for Just Schools, shows us how to make things fairer for everyone, include everyone, and make sure students get what they need.
The biggest honor of my life, however, was when I served as chair of NEA’s Women Issues Committee.
I worked with 18 women from across the country and from different walks of life to talk about issues that face girls in our schools and women in our union. Our work together helped expand our member’s thinking on how certain issues affect all students. For example, many thought the school-to-prison pipeline mainly affected boys of color. What most people didn’t realize was that this happens to girls, too, and for a host of reasons. And so, sharing those reasons became important because people need to understand the problem first before they can fix it.
And the union allows us to amplify our voices and the issues that impact students and educators, where in other places people didn’t want to listen to what I had to say.