“You chose this profession because you wanted to make a difference, and that means standing on the front lines for democracy,” CEA President Jeff Leake told nearly 200 educators gathered for CEA’s 18th annual New Teacher Conference on Saturday. “It means protecting education for the common good; keeping schools safe for our students; fighting discrimination; and resisting political interference into our classrooms while acknowledging that politics affects our work, our livelihood, our communities, and our planet. Because we are on the front lines for democracy, we will always rise to our duty to educate for democracy, stimulate critical thinking, and shape global citizens.”
Pointing to a “CEA Stronger Together” button he wears every day, Leake added, “This reminds us that our collective voice is so much more powerful than just one voice and that the best way to improve the fate of our students, our profession, and our communities is through the collective action of democratic, independent unions.”
Teachers’ voice: helping students
Keynote speaker Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year who is now running for Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District seat, expanded on the idea of teachers’ voice and how she has developed her own.
In recent years, Hayes shared, she has at times been the only teacher in rooms with powerful decision-makers setting public policy that runs counter to what teachers know will serve the best interests of their students.
“Much of my journey has been about finding my voice,” she said. “No matter where you are in your profession, this may be something that you, too, are struggling with. I started to practice using my teacher voice with my students, because while I was afraid to speak up for myself, I had no problem fighting for my students. I had no problem advocating for them against anyone. My teacher voice was in me; I just didn’t know how to elevate it.”
Hayes recalled her own struggles as a student—growing up in poverty, born to a young mother battling addiction, and becoming a mother herself at 17. She credited her teachers with lifting her up.
“It wasn’t just what was happening in the classroom but the investment that teachers made in me outside the classroom, doing all of those things that we are told are ‘not our job.'” She described how in the space of eight years—as she finished her degree and her own daughter became a teacher—she went from no one in her family having a college education to being a second-generation college-educated family. “Using our voice to advocate, to stand in intercession for people who don’t have a voice—that is what teachers are; that is what teachers do.”
Brimming with emotion at the keynote address was Hayes’ former student Iris Marte, now a world language teacher at Brown Middle School in Madison.
“I am so inspired by her,” Marte said, holding back tears.
Teachers helping teachers
This year’s conference, held at the Heritage Hotel in Southbury, helped educators at all stages of their careers learn to better engage their students, manage behavior, help struggling writers, build a culturally responsive classroom, advocate for themselves as professionals, and more. Geared toward teachers with less than seven years of classroom experience—but open to all CEA members—the conference featured two rounds of workshops, many of them presented by teachers, and covering a wide variety of topics.
“I may be new to the profession,” said first-year teacher Jeremy Timperanza, “but as a social studies teacher, I know the importance of unions. I know that as teachers, we can use our profession to effectively advocate for the sake of education in this country, in today’s political climate.”
Brian Cragin, a 38-year veteran special education teacher, said, “Regardless of how long you’ve been teaching, the education landscape is a constantly changing horizon. One needs to be informed, and we turn to our unions for that information.”
Cragin and Timperanza both participated in a session titled Teachers and the Law, which updates teachers on ever-changing legal issues relevant to their practice, as well as a Teacher Evaluation session, where experienced educators provide support and insights for newer colleagues facing their first professional assessments.
More resources for new teachers are available at cea.org/professional/newteacher.