“This profession that you’ve chosen is one of the most rewarding in the world, and by the way, that choice has never been so critical,” Waterbury Teachers Association President Kevin Egan told 150 new teachers gathered at Wilby High School last week for their introduction to their local union.
“At a time when stress factors have made it difficult to teach, you are choosing to take this profession on. You are choosing to help all of our students in the city of Waterbury,” he said, urging educators to give themselves a round of applause. More than 1,500 teachers strong, Waterbury is one of Connecticut’s largest districts.
Stamford, whose teaching force exceeds 1,600, also welcomed its newest cohort—some newly minted, other transferring from districts within or outside the state.
From lower Fairfield County to east of the river, CEA President Kate Dias greeted them all.
“We are actively committed to fighting on your behalf to ensure you are treated as professionals, respected, compensated with salaries that are commensurate with your expertise and education, and that you have what you need to be successful in your classroom,” she said. “When we work for you as your union, you can do your jobs better as educators, focusing on your students while knowing that we have your back.”
She added, “We make sure the elected officials in Hartford never forget the work that is going on in the locals. I have the privilege of keeping your voices and your stories front of mind for decisionmakers.”
Local association presidents also explained to teachers how members work together with support from CEA to negotiate strong contracts.
“We just finished one of the most successful contract negotiations in the city of Waterbury,” Egan said. “We were able to achieve a 15.35% increase to the salary schedule, which all of you are going to benefit from in the next three years. Unfortunately, for many of our teachers who have been here 25 years, like myself, we’ve gone through many step freezes, which were really the cause for a massive teachers exodus.”
The new contract ensures Waterbury salaries are much more competitive with nearby districts, which ensures the city’s schools can attract more of the qualified teachers it needs.
CEA UniServ representatives at new teacher orientations highlighted the many benefits of union membership, from workers’ compensation and DCF representation to support with teacher certification and evaluation, profession development, discounts, and more.
“It’s exciting to see students coming out of college and into our profession,” said John Corcoran, president of the Stamford Education Association, which held a luncheon for its 175 new educators.
“We’re here to support them and fight for them,” Corcoran said. “We have a great executive board, great building reps, a full-time president, and a CEA UniServ rep all working for our teachers. Our strength is in our unity.”
He added, “We’re still worried about shortages in special education, like everybody else.”
One-third of Stamford’s teacher resignations every year are in special education, he explained, where caseloads are often staggering.
Newly certified third-grade teacher Henry Ponthieu (pictured at top, far right), who will be teaching at Stamford’s Springdale Elementary School, shared, “It’s great to see 174 other new teachers here, all here with the same goal. Children are our future, and we want to give them the best tools to succeed in life.”
At each table at Stamford’s Serafina banquet hall, where teachers were seated according to their schools, building representatives sat with their newest colleagues.
“These are teachers who work in your building and are here to get you over any hurdles, especially in your first few weeks,” Corcoran said. “You’ll love it. It’s faced-paced, but you’re in a great district with a lot of support from SEA.”
New educators look to year ahead
As in Stamford, Waterbury teachers are optimistic about the start of a new school year and looking forward to getting to know their students and colleagues.
Katie Doyl worked in Wallingford as a long-term substitute last year but is starting her first permanent teaching position at Kennedy High School, teaching English. She said she’s most looking forward to meeting her students.
“It’s going to be really exciting. The first week is always so fun, because you get to see the kids go from so nervous to starting to make some friends—everybody starts to get along. You watch that culture of your classroom form; it’s pretty awesome.”
Tia Gardner and Leah LaPrad are excited to be co-teaching kindergarten. Gardner taught previously in Ansonia, and LaPrad is a first-year teacher.
In Fairfield, which welcomed more than 80 educators into the fold, Brittany Goldrick was thrilled to transition from being a long-term replacement to a first-grade teacher at Osborn Hill.
“My colleagues are like no others,” she said. “This community feels like home, and I’m very honored to be a part of it. I’ve also always been a strong advocate for participating in the union. We have negotiations coming up this year, and our union ensures that we’re set up for success.”
Fairfield Education Association President Mick McGarry spoke to the union’s ongoing work and described membership as “investment in yourself.”
Becoming active in a union, he said, allows teachers to earn significantly higher salaries, receive better healthcare and retirement benefits, enjoy better working conditions, and have a voice in what their contract looks like.
For comparison, he held up a two-page agreement a teacher received at a charter school—with no class size limits, no language about termination without cause, or other key provisions—and compared it with Fairfield’s current 81-page contract outlining the rights and working conditions their teachers successfully bargained for.
Fairfield teachers who signed on as union members received swag bags at their orientation, and Stamford educators were treated to raffle prizes customized by grade level—baskets stuffed with classroom supplies that teachers often pay for out of pocket.
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