Talk to any of the 64 Alaskans who attended the NEA Representative Assembly in Boston earlier this month and you will get a different story. Issues ranging from social justice to the Trump-DeVos education agenda required delegates’ full attention and input over the course of several days. Debate was lively both inside our delegation and amongst our peers from across the country.
The theme of improving public education and enhancing student learning linked us all together. With 159 New Business Items, emotional speeches from our national officers and ESP and teacher of the year, and a sustained focus on resisting damaging proposals from politicians, the 2017 RA raised the bar for advocacy.
“I will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos,” Eskelsen García told the delegates to resounding applause. “I do not trust their motives. I do not believe their alternative facts. I see no reason to assume they will do what is best for our students and their families. There will be no photo-op!”
As it is in our classrooms, our focus was on students throughout the RA, with teenage poets reciting verses from the stage to open and close each session. But the highest emotional moment came with actor LeVar Burton, host of the long-running PBS children’s series, “Reading Rainbow,” received NEA’s Friend of Education Award.
“I believe that what you have to offer is essential to this nation,” Burton said. “And our desire to lead the world in any meaningful manner depends on you…Without you, we go nowhere.”
If you really want to peek inside this democratic meeting of nearly 8,000 delegates, talk to one of the first-timers. Nearly a third of Alaska’s delegates were attending for the first time. Here are thoughts from a few of them:
“The biggest ‘eye opener’ for me was understanding the issues affecting my colleagues in the Lower 48 and feeling like I was able to support them. It is important to remember we are part of a union that represents millions of teachers and we are powerful! I walked away with this feeling like I am not alone and I am prouder than ever to say ‘I am an educator’.” – Juneau teacher Kelley Harvey
“It was a great privilege to be a first-time Alaska representative to NEA RA. I was told for years what it was like to attend RA but nothing really prepares you for all that takes place during RA. You are on from sun up to way after sunset. It is great to meet with other states and locals to see how they are doing and help each other out. It is also amazing how much work is done on the floor and how well President Lily Eskelsen Garcia handles all NEA business with fluidity. It is a very passionate and intense week. I am grateful for the opportunity.” – Fairbanks ESP Jasmine Adkins-Brown
“At RA, every voice is heard and any voice can make a difference. Despite our differences, our goal is the same: better schools for every child.” – Anchorage teacher Philip Walters
“After having attended Delegate Assembly a few times, I felt as prepared as I could for the same process (times 25) to learn more about our NEA. A former colleague encouraged me to attend her caucus, called Young Professionals, to say ‘Hi.’ I did, and I saw what they are doing to encourage involvement for new members, and I subsequently joined. By the end of RA, I became the state contact, thus I have a network to tap into to help NEA-Alaska and my local.” – Mat-Su teacher Erik Pierson
“I was impressed that 8,000 educators could assemble, debate, agree, and disagree for five days straight and still operate smoothly emerging with a dedication and a purpose going forward. I learned that all the delegates to NEA RA 2017 know who they represent, and they know the power of their mission serving to help educate children from across the nation no matter their background. I learned that our president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia has awesome skill in running a massive meeting and has incredible dedication and passion for the association and its members as well as the children they serve.” – Fairbanks teacher Howard Maxwell
“I learned there is power in numbers and it is more than just a phrase. Sitting among 8,000 teachers was empowering. I learned that our president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, is a passionate, gutsy leader who supports all children and young adults who are in the public school system. Finally, I learned that Alaska has one of the most unique public education programs in the country. RA was overwhelming in the beginning, and I realized knowing parliamentary procedure is critical in keeping 8,000 teachers focused.” – Anchorage teacher Susan Ritter
“I learned the process of NBI, policy statements, and resolutions. I also learned how to get the information, through technology and the morning NEA Today. These helped me learn the issues before the 10 a.m. start. The morning Alaska meetings were helpful in hearing from the Preview Committee and giving us time to respond. I think it would be a good idea if we met a half hour earlier—6:30 a.m. instead of 7 a.m.—this might give us more time for discussion of the day’s events ahead. Great learning experience, and I am looking forward to sharing my summary with the teachers in my area.” – Mat-Su teacher Kathleen Yerbich
“50 states, 7,000 delegates, 31 microphones, LeVar Barton and 3 unbelievable top NEA leaders guiding our association with knowledge, grace and skill in a transparent and empowering process. I loved listening to the stories shared from all corners of the United States on concerns that are similar to our locale and of diverse concerns that were eye opening as well. NEA RA 2017 is a powerful unity of teachers fiercely battling for a true and equal education for every kid.” – Fairbanks teacher Maxine Dibert
“The NEA is a group that stands in solidarity for what is best for our nation’s children. We operate in a completely democratic process, allowing all voices and opinions to be heard. We work together to fight for and represent excellence in teaching for our greatest natural resource—our children. It is a group of people standing united in pursuing a just system for educators and students, ultimately working towards brighter futures for all.” – Anchorage teacher Misty Nelson
On behalf of the 13,000 members of NEA-Alaska, I would like to thank this year’s delegates for their dedication, hard work, and commitment to improving our association and our professions.
– Tim Parker, NEA-Alaska President