“It all starts with you.”
That was the message CEA President Sheila Cohen gave to more than 400 teachers at the CEA Summer Leadership Conference today. She reminded teachers how important they are to every child’s success—and how critical their voices are to the policies that shape children’s education and the political process behind those policies.
In her welcoming remarks at CEA’s 2017 Summer Leadership Conference, Cohen urged members to stay on top of what is happening in Hartford and in Washington, especially this year.
“It starts with understanding that the laws and policies affecting public education and everything we do—from our curriculum to our benefits—are created, written, debated, voted upon, and mandated by the very people we elect. Right now, we are facing ever-increasing threats to our profession, to our right to collectively bargain, and to our right to exist as a union,” said Cohen, “all of which require our vigilance, engagement, and collective advocacy throughout the summer and into the next year leading up to the 2018 elections.
“Teachers have one of the greatest records for getting out the vote,” she added, “and believe me, legislators know that. They realize that we are a major part of their political base. One in every 100 voters is a teacher. Now that is power.”
Connecticut legislators are now meeting behind closed doors, without public oversight, crafting a budget that could potentially shake up the teacher pension system and Education Cost Sharing funding in ways that increase pressure on school budgets, cities and towns, teachers, students, and families. Cohen encouraged teacher leaders to keep the pressure on lawmakers to reject plans to shift teacher pension costs onto cities and towns, increase teacher contributions to their retirement plans, or cut precious education funding.
At a time when many teachers are feeling the fatigue that comes with relentless self-advocacy and advocacy for public education, she reminded them of the union’s 40-year struggle for better wages and working conditions—a fight that was won because of the involvement of individual teachers in 55 Connecticut communities.
“Talk to them,” she said, referring to educators who were teaching during those years. “Ask them what it was like to be a teacher in the 1960s and 1970s. They will tell you about the low pay, the disrespect, the lack of breaks and free periods, the restrictions they faced. We can’t go back. As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Bridgeport teacher strike, we must remember what our colleagues did for us, and we must have the courage to do the same.”
Organizing, leading, and advocating for the profession are among 30 full-length workshops and mini sessions offered throughout the three-day Summer Leadership Conference, held July 31 to August 2 at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center. The conference includes professional development in dozens of key areas, including restorative practices, constructive coaching, technology in the classroom, culturally competent schools, and more. The added emphasis on organizing arose from needs expressed by CEA members over the past year.
“This conference is empowering,” said Wallingford educator Betty Butkus.
“It’s a great way to get engaged yourself and learn how to keep engaging teachers in your district,” said Portland Education Association membership chair Jerome Manning.
Vernon business teacher David Jedidian, who said member engagement in his district is strong, nonetheless acknowledged, “It’s never enough. That’s why I’m here—to learn more strategies. There’s always more you can do.”
Watch a video excerpt of CEA President Sheila Cohen’s remarks below.