Energy levels remain high on day two of CEA’s Summer Conference, where hundreds of teachers have reconvened in Cromwell for intensive training, networking, and the sharing of ideas, concerns, and best practices.
“This is my second time attending,” says Tolland teacher Tiffany Reynolds. “The first time was last year, as an emerging leader. Since then, I’ve worked on two grievances, and I’m here to learn how to do that more effectively so that I can be the best advocate for my colleagues.”
Reynolds understands the value of a strong union and lets colleagues know that union membership spans a wide range of benefits. These include having a vote on key issues that shape working and learning conditions and receiving legal protection in DCF investigations, which—she underscores—are growing in number to the point that as many as one in five teachers over the course of their careers will become targets.
Trumbull Education Association President John Mastroianni, attending the Summer Conference for the first time, says, “As a new president, I’m picking up ideas from other locals—teachers who are the in the same boat and have faced similar challenges, as well as those who are dealing with different obstacles. We talk about what works. As a local leader, I’m also here to see how to get teachers involved in their union at a deeper level, because I believe people do their best when they’re empowered.”
Fairfield teacher Marion Richard agrees. “I come to the CEA Summer Conference because it gives me a chance to spend time learning alongside people who have the same priorities and passions. I always go home feeling very recharged.”
East Haddam Education Association President Zach Blain, who has attended the annual conference for several years, is back after a brief hiatus. “I missed the last year or two because I have a young son. With the Janus ruling going against us, I thought it was really important to return this year and get info on how to be a better advocate for our profession. As a local president, I feel it’s my duty to my peers to be as informed as possible on the challenges facing our profession.”
Portland teacher Jerome Manning has learned a lot about those hurdles, in particular the Janus decision and 100 bills introduced into the legislature this year to chip away at collective bargaining. “The information we get at this conference is always great,” says Manning. “I do feel like we as teachers are under attack, especially now.”
“Everything that’s going on now is just so frightening,” Marion agrees, adding, “We can’t just sit back and not take action.”
Manchester teacher Kathryn Atwater, a first-time conference attendee, says, “It’s been really eye-opening, and I’m learning a lot that I wouldn’t know otherwise. It’s great to be able to talk to other teachers I’m meeting for the first time and learn about the issues other districts are facing. It makes me feel empowered.”
During breaks between workshop sessions, teachers were encouraged to personalize posters that read, “I’m sticking with my union because…” A gallery of posters was displayed at the conference and can be viewed on CEA’s Flickr page.