I graduated college with a degree in veterinary science. I loved the job, but it was challenging, with calls at 4 a.m. to care for a sick ewe or a wounded cat and then report for work a few hours later.
I was fortunate, however, because I found work that was just as hard but even more satisfying: teaching. I’ve been lucky to have opportunities to advocate for my colleagues and help improve the respect and working conditions of educational support professionals (ESPs) through my union.
I began my work about 27 years ago, I focused on students with dyslexia, becoming a Title 1 instructional assistant and leading district-wide training.
The need soon became clear. There were kids who had dyslexia or other reading problems, but no one was really trained to assist them—and often concluded they couldn’t learn. The teacher preparation that was provided on these issues didn’t scratch the surface and professional assessments often provided no plan.
I knew I had a big role to play.
Following in the union footsteps of my grandfather, who helped organize meatpacking workers in two states, I became active in my local—the Lebanon Education Support Professionals (LESP). My local worked to improve the support for students with reading limitations—as well as improving the compensation, mentoring, and training for ESPs in my district.
But I’m perhaps most proud of a mentoring program I began that is now becoming a model for districts throughout the state and nation.
My local, OEA, and NEA (through its training and micro-credential offerings, among other support) have all been a blessing to me—and to my fellow ESPs who have benefited from the power of the union. For example, NEA provided a grant for me to partially fund my advanced training in dyslexia instruction, as well as funds and support for our ESP mentoring program. Plus, NEA helped support a micro-credential pilot for our local.
These and other efforts to professionalize the ESP profession are intended to give us the respect we deserve, which often has been lacking.
My work has expanded broadly since those first days in my school—it keeps me busy, but my priorities are still the same as when I started: Helping my students and elevating the support professionals who do so much to make sure my students are healthy, safe, and supported in their learning.