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Member & Activist Spotlight

Grace Hopkins: "I recognized the value of a union for school employees first-hand"

Grace Hopkins is a Third Grade Teacher in Austin, Texas
Grace Hopkins Moses Mitchell
Published: 09/01/2022

I recognized the value of a union for school employees first-hand when professionals in my school and district were faced with a lack of care for the staff and students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district wanted us to be back in the classroom as the pandemic peaked without what we felt were appropriate precautions.

We wanted remote teaching, safety measures in the classroom and accommodations for people with pre-existing conditions – and we wanted decisions about these and other key issues made at the school level.

We communicated with the district administration and then made our point with a caravan of more than 200 cars. We traveled to the administration offices from two locations and then taped our protest signs to the building windows so that our message was clear. We gained several concessions and made schools safer for the staff and students.

That experience validated what I had learned earlier. I understood the value of a union theoretically during college when the vice president of our local school employee union spoke to my cohort of preservice teachers and explained how they improve the circumstances for not only teachers but students and their schools.

So, I found a district that had a solid, active union, and it paid off. Education Austin had a strong record of building community schools and supporting the staff and students, as it did during the pandemic. I also found a school, Lance Cpl. Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School, that had an effective, enthusiastic staff.

I had the career I wanted – teaching multilingual children – and I was working in a school where the staff was enthused about their union. A teacher is who I am, but I also feel my work with the union is so critical and I am committed to it.

In the classroom, I’m able to teach students who are so eager to learn and build up their identity as multilingual world changers. My goal is to become a board-certified teacher and grow as an educator.

And within my union I want to grow as a leader and continue to work on critical issues. I now serve on the executive board for my local.

Although we don’t technically have the right to collective bargaining in our state, we have worked hard to have a voice. We fought hard for and won elected consultation with our district, meaning the district must meet with us to come to an agreed upon contract or else we can take our issues directly to the school board. We now are at the table for critical district discussions.

We also are working hard to have help elected school board officials who represent us, speaking up for workers and understanding our experience. Our current  campaign that seeks a $6.50 pay increase for educational support professionals bringing their pay to $20, a schedule for everyone that allows for adequate and a $1,000 stipend completing our state-required reading academy.

At the same time, within the union, we have to be more transparent about our views and activity and inspire new educators to join us and be active.

In college, I heard a message that guided me into this career and advocacy with my colleagues for a better environment for students and staff. I hope that I can inspire someone else in the same way.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

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.