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Member Spotlight

'It all started with just a red shirt and a desire to support my teachers.'

Brian Reilly is an Aspiring Educator in South Orange, New Jersey
Brian Reilly Moses Mitchell
Published: 11/18/2022

My first involvement in the union started in my senior year of high school when I noticed all my teachers wore red every Wednesday. After a few weeks of wondering, I decided to ask why this was the case. I found out this was a part of the Red for Ed movement the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) was organizing to end Chapter 78, which involved health benefits for educators.

As a future educator, I knew I had to step up and help them out. From that Wednesday forward, I wore red almost every Wednesday for the rest of the year.

As a college freshman, I looked for various clubs to possibly join. I stumbled upon the Seton Hall chapter of NJEA Preservice—our version of Aspiring Ed. I barely even knew what preservice meant at the time, but I knew NJEA was the same union my high school teachers were a part of, so I knew I had to join.

After joining, I was given the opportunity to attend the NJEA Convention. What an experience that was! Walking through the convention floor and into the convention hall and seeing the NJEA’s president, at the time, fire up a crowd of members left me awestruck. I knew I had to get more involved, and I did.

I applied to be an ambassador for NJEA Preservice and was accepted. The following year I became the Preservice NJEA Relations chair, and last year I was president of our state program. I’m currently our political action co-chair.

From day one, I saw how our preservice program and NJEA was so much more than your typical organization. As members, we work together to grow our profession and to advocate for change, while also being able to love it.

One of our biggest advocacy efforts has been toward—and we’re close to it—eliminating edTPA, a capstone project run by a for-profit company that gets to decide whether you’ll become a teacher. Do the people at this company know our teaching style? How much do they know about education? Yet, they’re deciding our futures.

When a bill was sponsored to eliminate edTPA, in March, I and several preservice members, along with full-time practicing educators, went to roundtables hosted by various senators and assembly people from different counties. We talked about how edTPA is expensive, discriminatory, and an obstacle to teacher certification. It was almost two years of work, but in June our State Assembly unanimously approved eliminating edTPA. While our governor has conditionally vetoed it, we’re hopeful it will pass, again, once the legislature is back in session.

And that’s one of the great thing about NJEA’s Preservice program: No matter your interest, there's a place for you within the union—from political action and member organizing to advocating for better policies.

From a high school senior to the various leadership roles within NJEA Preservice program, it all started with just a red shirt and a desire to support my teachers.

Students with NEA recognition awards

Become an Aspiring Educator

NEA’s Aspiring Educators Program supports, develops, and empowers diverse, pre-service teachers with the resources, networks, and opportunities to lead in their schools, communities, and in all phases of their career.
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.