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Overheard at NEA: Professional Respect, School-Funding, and Politics Are Top Priorities

While at the NEA convention today, I flagged down a few delegates from a sampling of states and asked the following: What should be NEA's main priority right now? The major theme at the convention so far has been the union's push to re-elect President Barack Obama. Do you agree this is where the organization's focus should be?

Here's a smattering of the answers I heard:

Re-electing the president should be "the immediate one, but there are lots of other related and unrelated ones. Standing up for ourselves, improving our brand and marketing for teachers. [Negative branding] kills morale and gives justification for attacking us. I don't mind taking accountability for my kids, but I need to be able to reach out and have some power to make other stakeholders accountable, too." —Chuck Hennessee, North Carolina


"To elect Barack Obama! After that, it's funding; everything is contingent on that. [We have] to keep teachers teaching in the classroom."
—Donna Gray, Rhode Island


"Yes, to elect Obama. And I know math, science, and English/language arts are important, but other subject areas, both fine arts and practical arts, often get cut out of the education budget because they're not tested subjects. And that bothers me. We came this close to losing our woodshop teacher this year. ... Every year it's like playing Monopoly. Am I going to pass go? Or am I going to lose my job?"
—Marlene Prichard, Rhode Island


"To demand that [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan be out now. We need to be making demands on the Administration to defend public education. ... I assume the vast number of members are voting for Obama. We really need to be defending public education on an independent basis—with strikes, demonstrations, and utilizing our massive support."
—Mark Airgood, Oakland, Calif.


"Survival of the profession as a profession. And regaining the respect that educators deserve. It's become a political agenda, but it's not exclusively a political agenda. We need [respect] to continue to do our work for the kids."
—Elizabeth Brininger, Maryland


"NEA should be focused on quality education for all. All. And compelling funding so that all children have equal access. Whoever that comes from is fine—a clever or stupid president—but the people that represent us need to wake up and realize that all students should have an opportunity to learn."
—Nena Torrez, California


"It should be [political] campaigning. That's the primary one. That's it. There are so many people here, it's the best place to reach them. ... [Obama] won't take our money like the other Republican governors have. He's helping the working class people."
—Marilyn Dupree, Florida


There you have it. The message seems to boil down to some essential line items: building respect for the profession, re-electing the president, and funding schools. The opinion on Duncan may be a holdover from last year—and appears to be out-of-step with the majority of members' preoccupations at this time.

For more news about the Representative Assembly, including the actions on New Business Items, see Stephen Sawchuk's posts on Teacher Beat.

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