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Member Spotlight

'We not only protect students and educators, but we’re also a family.'

Kat Sibalwa is a Spanish Teacher in Byron Center, Michigan
Kat Sibalwa Moses Mitchell
Published: 11/23/2022

Two years into teaching (this is year 17 for me!), I wanted to take on a leadership position. The role of secretary was open, and I ran for it. I had no clue what was involved in union activities and duties, but I had such a respect for those serving in that capacity that I knew I needed to give back.

Seven years later, our president, at the time, stepped down and I stepped up. I had just had a baby and thought, ‘Oh my gosh! What am I doing?’ Good news was I wasn’t going to do it alone. We developed a co-president structure and it’s been great because I’m the secondary-school voice and the other co-president is the elementary-school voice. Together, we work hard to show the value of our union.

I believe in unionism. It’s the root of social justice. It protects people from discrimination. It built the middle class, gave workers a weekend and a 40-hour week, and so much more. It’s important to look at our history. Otherwise, people just assume it's always been that way. It wasn’t. People had to organize, collectively act, and demand change.

The impact of unions on public education today isn’t lost on me either. We help all kids in the classroom and we prepare them to succeed in life. The union helps us achieve this – so does our union contract.

When we’re protected through a contract, our students are also protected. I see friends in other states who don’t have unions or have literally a one-page contract. This often results in overcrowded classrooms, lack of student resources, violations of duty-free lunches, additional tasks before and after school that go unpaid, low wages … I can go on.

Our contract, however, protects us from that. We’ve negotiated class-size limits. We have duty-free lunches. Our contract includes language that says the district will allot a certain amount of money for school supplies. We also bargained for professional development, and we recently added paternity leave to our contract. We're the first in the county to do so.

Every year we work to make our contract better for those that come after us, and in turn help protect our students so they can have an environment where they can learn.

We not only protect students and educators, but we’re also a family.

Nobody can understand what we do daily unless they live in our shoes, and so to have a group of people who know what you're going through is such a relief. And this is where I belong.

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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.