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Member & Activist Spotlight

Sarah Lancaster: "With my union’s support and resources, I can do what I love: teach"

Sarah Lancaster is a First Grade Teacher in Onamia, Minnesota
Sarah Lancaster
Published: June 6, 2022

As a first-grade teacher, wrapping up my 9th year, it’s been rewarding to see how students change and learn from each other. We practice a lot of conflict resolution, and many have gone from not knowing how to communicate—sometimes called screaming—to really advocating for themselves. It’s great to see their academic growth, as well as their personal growth.

The student population at my school is nearly 60 percent Native American, and I want them to see themselves as scientists, authors, mathematicians, or someone who studies current events. I make sure my lessons include, for example, students of color and students who have different levels of body mobility. I always ask myself: Does this lesson validate my students’ cultural beliefs? If not, I modify it. This is one of the ways I can best serve students and set them up for success.

My local union is amazing and is one of the biggest perks of working for Onamia Public Schools. With my union’s support and resources, I can do what I love: teach.

Last year, we had some issues around distance learning. We were asked to teach in-person and online—at the same time. It’s hard to do that with six-year-old students and do it in a way that is equitable for both groups.

My union heard what we had to say, asked what we needed, and took it to the negotiation table. In the end, we had teachers designated specifically for distance learning and others assigned to in-person. This gave me the opportunity to do my job and to do it well. So much so that this year I was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

With this honor, I now have a bigger platform to talk about the issues that are important to me as an educator, such as representing teachers of color; and speaking with students, from elementary school to college, about the profession and how it is a career pathway they can successfully undertake.

I’m also excited to represent rural communities and promote the value of community partnerships, and advocate for more funding for mental health supports and social emotional learning programs.

But teaching children takes communication and the recognition that we all need to be invested in our children. It's not just teachers or counselors. It’s everyone, from civic associations and businesses. And the union has been a great advocate alongside with me.

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.