By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Celiza Almarz De Hernandez, Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA).
Stephen McMahon, 35
High School Math/Leadership Teacher
Full-time President, San Jose Teachers Association
Many younger teachers went through the school system under No Child Left Behind, and they think school is supposed to be all about testing. Older teachers came from a very different system without testing. I had some experience as a student when NCLB was just beginning, and I can help to bridge the gap between what public schools looked like before NCLB and what they look like now. I have the ability to talk to both groups of people when it comes to an internal debate about what our schools should look like. When you have a membership that has differing values, you have to be able to talk to each other first before you can reach an agreement on how to move forward.
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about seniority and benefits. You have association leaders at the end of their careers, and they see issues from that perspective. I’m newer to the profession and have another perspective about health benefits and the seniority process. I can bridge that gap.
Veteran teachers aren’t concerned about being laid off, and younger teachers are. Some veteran teachers feel safe, and younger teachers don’t. Younger teachers don’t think seniority should be as prominent as it is, because they think that no matter how hard they work, they’re going to lose their jobs. On the flip side, senior teachers don’t want to be moved out just because they’re older. You have to find a middle ground and say that if you’re doing excellent work you shouldn’t be laid off in your third year, and if you have 30 years of experience, you shouldn’t be laid off because you’re older.
As a younger leader, I’m able to have these conversations in a different way. In the past, you may have had younger teachers looking at older leaders and saying, “They are only thinking about themselves.” But I remind them that we’re going to be 30-year employees someday, and when they hear that perspective, they listen more. Again, it’s all about promoting dialogue.
We need younger teachers speaking up. We need them to be passionate about public education. Nobody can be an advocate by staying silent.
Alexis Weiner, 30
English Teacher, John Burroughs High School
Organizing Chair and Site Rep., Burbank Teachers Association
I frequently hear members say “What is the union doing?” or “What are you — the union reps and leadership — doing?” instead of asking “What are we doing?” This us-and-them mentality is why it’s important that younger teachers become involved in their local associations. Some of us take things for granted, because when we came into the profession, there were full benefits and pay scales in place. It can be difficult to put ourselves in the position of veterans who fought for these things. There can be a disconnect between generations of teachers, because if you haven’t lived without these benefits, the threat of losing them doesn’t carry the same weight. But now we are seeing a regression in the things we fought for, and we need to stand together to protect what we still have. Last year, after four years in the district, I was laid off along with around 10 percent of our members until we agreed to furlough days, a raise in class sizes, and modifications to health care benefits.
Involvement is not just working within the union or looking out for our own needs; it goes hand in hand with looking out for our students. In order to best serve them, we need to negotiate certain items like class size. Yes, it’s beneficial to us as teachers to have fewer students, but it’s also beneficial to students who need personal attention, or need questions answered, or need to create a bond with a teacher in order to feel part of the school community. To be the most effective teachers we can be, we need to participate in our local associations, CTA and NEA.
I would like to see more young leaders take an active role in CTA. In today’s economic climate, we are afraid of losing our jobs because we have been threatened so many times. Sometimes this fear makes us feel isolated or that we’re the only ones feeling this way. We need to come out of our classrooms, talk about our experiences and concerns, and come together so we can realize the commonality of what we share.
Andy Montoya, 35
Math Teacher, Ladera Vista Junior High
President, North Orange County United Teachers
I’m a member of the Generation CTA Caucus. For those who are wondering, Generation CTA is a mindset, not an age. It’s a mindset about the future — and the future of our union. Members of Generation CTA believe that newer teachers need more involvement and more of a voice in such matters as teacher evaluation, test scores and NCLB.
So many times we hear it said that you can’t fire a teacher, and that teachers unions are a stumbling block. But we want to work with districts to come up with solutions. We have some solutions, but nobody is asking us. The public says unions won’t say yes to anything, but nobody has asked us. For example, some of us think evaluations should be done by a committee of our peers.
Generation CTA wants younger members to know they need to be more involved. We tell them about the value of the association. Some newer members don’t see the benefits of their union and just see it as $100 that comes out of their paycheck once a month. We say, “You need to see what we do and you will have a voice, too.”
We want to let younger teachers know that politics isn’t scary, and that they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to their congressman or Assembly member. I tell them “You can do it” and urge them to come on Lobby Day for a congressional visit so they can become an advocate and get involved.
Being in a union isn’t just for people with 20 years’ experience. It’s a place for everyone; it’s a voice for everyone. Just search for “Generation CTA” on Facebook to get involved.
Celiza Almarz De Hernandez, 33
Office Manager, Highland Grove elementary School
Executive Board Member, Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA)
As a younger member of RESPA, I’m a little bit more open to thinking outside the box. I bring a fresh approach. I have helped RESPA use social networking to get members involved. I helped us get on Facebook and revamp our website because it wasn’t attracting people. Young leaders have great ideas about doing things differently. For example, in the past we had a member appreciation dinner that was a formal sitdown dinner. Last year we had a barbecue open to families in the park, and it was extremely successful.
When I started working for my district seven years ago, I was automatically part of a union, but knew nothing about it until I started having issues with an administrator who was picking on me. My site rep found me crying in the hallway, explained her role and brought the president in. I learned that belonging to a union meant that someone would come to my defense and make sure I wasn’t getting bullied.
One day my site rep stepped down and asked me to take over. I started going to meetings, and someone mentioned our chapter needed a newsletter editor. I threw my hand in the air and offered to help. I went to the CTA Summer Institute to learn how to do newsletters. Then my president sent me to the CTA Leadership Academy. I was asked to apply for the NEA Leaders for Tomorrow program and didn’t realize at first I was competing with other ESP employees across the country. I was one of 20 selected out of hundreds of applicants.
That experience was transforming! I did a lot of introspective work on finding out who I am as a person so I could be the leader that I need to be. Just because I’m ESP, it doesn’t mean I can’t play a leadership role.
When other young people see me as a site rep, they can relate. I encourage them to step up and get involved. The sooner the better! Other members can benefit from our fresh point of view.
Beckah O’Haver, 26
Student, SCU Sacramento
Vice President, Student CTA
One of the most difficult things for me is all the negativity that you hear from people right now. You hear that there’s not going to be any jobs, or that first-year teachers give up, or that it’s not the right profession for you.
One of the things that SCTA worked on this year was combating that negative dialogue and looking for ways to inspire the members we still have. We said, “Look, things are rough out there, and it will always
be rough no matter where we go. But there’s still hope and opportunity out there, and we don’t want to give up on the teaching profession.” I didn’t go into the profession because it would be a job; for me, it’s a passion.
For some young leaders today, it feels as though we don’t always get listened to, even though we have a lot of different and innovative ideas. You hear the stereotype that the younger generation tends to be about “me, me, me.” But in SCTA, we are thinking about the long term, and some of us have children. I have a son who is 15 months old, and I’m worried about his prospects with so many cuts in public education funding.
I would like to see more mentorship by older leaders, bridging the gap between regular CTA and Student CTA. It would give younger leaders more buy-in and older leaders some dynamic ideas. SCTA is my best friend. Whenever I feel stuck or can’t go any further, I have my friends there to help me. When money is tight, I can look for scholarship possibilities, and when I’m confronted with a problem, I can usually find the answers through my SCTA connection.