Nearly 40 educators met and mingled at the first-ever Hartford Regional Ethnic Minority Teacher Social hosted by CEA on Monday. The event was an opportunity for teachers of color to network, discuss ways of diversifying a predominantly white teaching force in Connecticut, and explore avenues for becoming more involved at all levels of the union—from their local and state associations to NEA.
“This was a great event,” said CREC teacher Anjanee Wright. “I got to meet other educators I wouldn’t necessarily have a chance to meet because we work in different districts. It was a good opportunity to talk to each other.”
“Our goal is to keep those conversations going,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “We have a lot of work to do to increase the number of teachers of color to better reflect the student population in Connecticut, and this is one way of starting a meaningful dialogue.”
Growing a more diverse profession
CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas shared information about a new NEA grant-funded project that facilitates the creation of school-based clubs for future educators.
“The clubs will match high school students with mentor teachers, provide support in developing leadership skills and applying to colleges, introduce students to persistent teacher shortage areas, and, we hope, allow students to earn college credits that can be applied toward teaching programs,” Nicholas explained.
Representing CREC and districts including Bloomfield, Manchester, East Hartford, West Hartford, and Windsor, many of the teachers gathered said they have often been the only teachers of color in their schools.
Elementary school teacher Brian Ozenne, who teaches at CREC’s Ana Grace Academy of the Arts Magnet School in Avon, acknowledged that he is no stranger to that sort of racial isolation.
“This teacher social is an excellent idea,” said Ozenne. “In my building—and, in fact, anywhere I’ve ever taught—I’m the only African American male teacher.”
“What’s great about this event,” said Bloomfield third-grade teacher Anitra Woodard, “is that CEA is looking for our feedback. They are asking us to get involved in our union and grow a more diverse teaching profession.”
Deeper union roots
Longtime CEA members whose roles have ranged from building rep and Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission (EMAC) chair to Board member, teachers such as Bloomfield’s Glenn Spencer and Glastonbury’s Natalie Lynne Smith emphasized the value of increased ethnic minority representation on union committees and in local, state, and national association events.
“You wouldn’t be in this profession if you weren’t an advocate,” Spencer said. “You advocate for your students and for public education. And you can be an advocate for your profession as well.”
Smith, who has served as a building rep and on election committees at the national level, said union involvement “is a lot of work, but also fun and rewarding. It helps you connect with colleagues, it helps you understand your collective bargaining agreement and the system you work in, and it allows you to influence decisions being made about public education.”
West Hartford teacher Dr. Lara White, who leads Hall High School’s Future Educators of Diversity, added, “Identify your sphere of influence and ask yourself, ‘What do we need from our union to amplify our educator voice?’ Use your voice to advance your education agenda.”
Participants were invited to fill out a survey that will help further guide CEA’s work toward diversifying the teaching profession and increasing ethnic minority teachers’ involvement in their unions.
To arrange for a social event with local associations in your area, talk to your local president or CEA UniServ Representative.