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Member & Activist Spotlight

'Sometimes it is the small things that mean the most'

Valencia Johnson is a Teacher Assistant, Special Education in Austin, Texas
Valencia Johnson Moses Mitchell
Published: February 24, 2023

Sometimes there are big, obvious signs of progress in our work with students – and sometimes it is the small things that mean the most.

I’ve seen both types of progress in my various roles here in Austin, where I’ve worked for 27 years, currently in special education helping students get the credits they need to graduate. It is wonderful to see students achieve the big accomplishment of getting their diploma, but along the way, there are small steps I see that often are most important to them and to me.

Like all educators, I’m involved in schools to help facilitate the progress that students make in big and small ways. And I’m involved in union because it supports this great work.

One student I worked closely with was confined to a wheelchair. He was generally non-verbal and had other emotional issues. I worked with him more directly and advocated for him to move into a higher-level class. He improved in several ways. With the change of environment and more social interaction, he began to communicate with other students and teachers using a communication board, pointing to pictures and symbols independently as a form of his communication. His attitude changed, too. It was a big advance for him.

Another student had serious behavioral issues and was involved in juvenile court and just had given up. He had tried to improve but kept running into roadblocks. While he was behind academically, I convinced him he could succeed. Throughout the pandemic, he worked hard independently and came to school whenever he was allowed under rules of the lockdown. By the end of the year (last year), however, he still came up short and again saw no pathway forward.

I asked him if he really wanted to graduate, and that if he did, I’d work with him one-on-one through the summer. He agreed. Since then, he has moved forward with his life, enrolling in community college to study HVAC installation and repair.

Those success stories are what I envisioned when I got involved in education.

And I became a part of Education Austin to be a part of an organization that fought for everyone's rights – not just members, but potential members as well.  I wanted to be the voice for change and to empower others.

When I think about it, my involvement in education also has been a series of small and big steps to get to this place where I am today. I’ve loved seeing the journey my students take and I’ve loved my journey too

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.