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Member & Activist Spotlight

Tammy Smith: “I joined the union to help make my profession better"

Tammy Smith is a Retired Teacher in Fairbanks, Alaska
Tammy Smith
Published: 08/04/2022

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My grandma was a teacher, and she would tell stories about taking a horse and buggy to a one room schoolhouse. Hearing those stories made me want to be a teacher. It was the best career choice I could have ever made.”

I just retired after 40 years, but my work as a teacher started in 1981, as an elementary school teacher. Teaching allowed me to expand on all the things I enjoyed learning about, and in an elementary school setting, that can be a lot—from science to math and reading good literature. I just felt like I was in my realm.

I would spend the first half hour of my day walking around the school and touching base with my colleagues just to say hello or to ask, ‘Hey, how can we help this student,’ ‘what do you have on your agenda,’ or how can I help you?’

I took on the mentor-teacher role, and I liked that. The other part is that I learned how to work well with parents, and of course, seeing the kids every day. And helping me along the way was my union.

I joined the union to help make my profession better.

I knew teachers were frustrated, and I knew that if we can help support teachers, students will do better in school. There's good work that can be done through the union, and there's work that needs to be done. If we're not out there doing it, someone else is going to be doing it, and it might not be in the best interest of our profession.

Since I had been teaching for a while, I was looking to expand my interests. I felt it was my time to support other teachers and to help improve our working environment. The union provided a path for me to do just that.

My role as a union president stands out because I felt I was just a first-grade teacher. I never believed I could become the local union president of 1,000 teachers. But that's what the NEA did for me: It allowed me to expand upon my own leadership skills and have the best job that anybody could ever have.”

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.