After more than three decades in the classroom—11 years in Mansfield and 20 in Hebron—CEA-Retired member Althea Carr has blazed a few trails. She was the first in her local education association to participate in an NEA Representative Assembly and the only teacher of color in her district.
Despite feeling at times like an endangered species, as she likes to half-joke, Carr says, “I loved being a teacher; it fulfilled a lifelong dream for me. I loved my students, and the more challenging ones just made life…a little more interesting.”
Teacher and leader
Carr had hoped to be an educator for as far back as she can remember.
“My parents encouraged me to teach, which was something I always wanted to do,” she recalls. “They worked two jobs to make college possible for me. As a child, my best friend and I would play school, and I always wanted to be the teacher. Early in my career I remember thinking, ‘I’m getting paid to do this!’”
Aside from her role in the classroom, Carr became increasingly engaged with her community and her union.
“I’ve held many leadership positions throughout my life, and I credit CEA with providing the training that allowed me to step confidently into those roles,” she says. “Training in parliamentary procedures served me very well throughout my years as an educator and advocate—facilitating meetings and more. At the local level, I served as a building representative as well as secretary and president of the Mansfield Education Association and co-president in Hebron for six years, until retirement. As I became more involved at the statewide level, I felt the support of my local teachers’ unions. I was first in Mansfield to attend an NEA RA.”
Carr attended many more representative assemblies and CEA leadership conferences over the years. In addition to being a national delegate and local leader, she became active in CEA’s Human and Civil Rights Commission and Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission (which has since been renamed the Racial and Ethnic Diversity Affairs Commission, or REDAC), chairing several EMAC fundraisers that provided thousands of scholarship dollars for aspiring teachers.
“It was a lot of hard work, but the team was dedicated and worked well together,” she recalls. “I made some great friends from around the state during that time.”
Carr has also taken on roles with the advisory, finance, and planning committees for CEA-Retired and currently co-chairs the advisory board for Tolland County with fellow CEA-Retired member Joe Jankowski.
Change starts at home
Outside of her union work, some of Carr’s more recent service focuses on the work of the Coalition on Diversity and Equity (CoDE), a group whose members reside in Andover, Columbia, Hebron, or Marlborough and whose mission involves making meaningful changes to housing, education, and economic development that will bring greater diversity to their communities.
“My husband, Alex, and I moved to Hebron more than 40 years ago so that we could both could be close to our jobs,” Carr explains. In 1991, she was named Hebron Citizen of the Year for her volunteer work, and after taking time off to raise their children, Alex and Olivia, she returned to teaching at Hebron Elementary School, where she was the only Black teacher. For most of their academic careers, she adds, her son and daughter were almost always the only Black students in their classes.
“How sad is that?” she asks. “I worried about the lack of diversity that’s a disservice to all our children.”
And then she recalls the moment during a racial justice rally in Hebron, after the murder of George Floyd, where it all became too much.
“I stood alone and cried on Main Street,” she recalls, “because after all these years, we still had to say that Black lives matter as much as everyone else’s.”
Be the difference
After the rally, four white women in Hebron—a town that is 97% white—organized CoDE and asked Carr to be a part of it.
“There was no way I was joining another organization,” she thought. “My schedule was already so full. But out of politeness and respect, I said I’d attend one meeting.” One meeting led to another, and today, Carr is on CoDE’s board of directors and its education and Juneteenth committees.
In addition to CoDE, Carr’s community service encompasses the work of a number of organizations, including the Hebron Greater Together Community, Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission (appointed by Governor Ned Lamont), Senior Friends of Hebron, Sacred Ground (a national faith-based dialogue series on film and readings that traces America’s history with race and racism, where Carr helped plan sessions and was one of five discussion group leaders), and Connecticut Humanities’ Connecticut Center for the Book.
“I was recruited to be a judge for the Connecticut Book Awards, a three-year commitment that’s perfect for an avid reader like me,” she says, “because I get to read excellent books!” Her master’s degree from UConn in elementary education, with a concentration in children’s literature, comes in handy too.
Carr also serves on the board of the Northeast Family Federal Credit Union and has been involved with the Friends of the Douglas Library of Hebron for many years, stepping down from its board of trustees only recently to care for her husband, who lost his eyesight to glaucoma and has been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.
“I find joy in helping others,” she says, adding that among her greatest joy in retirement is “being with my beautiful grandsons, Jackson (8) and Lexan (3).”
Looking to get more involved and put your talents to work? Consider joining a CEA committee or commission.
Retiring this year? Get to know and connect with CEA-Retired educators like Althea Carr. Learn more at cea.org/cea-retired/.