“Jahana Hayes is someone who is not just pro-teacher but has a hands-on understanding of what goes into our profession, the things we need to be successful, and the challenges we face. She has the ability to be really advantageous for us,” says Zach Blain, an East Haddam teacher and the president of his local association.
Blain was among a group of CEA members learning about political activism and organizing at CEA’s Summer Conference this year. The group learned the ins and outs of advocating for pro-public education candidates when they went door knocking for Hayes, a former CEA member and the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. CEA has endorsed Hayes, who is running for Congress in Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District.
“It’s nice to know we have someone running who understands what we’re going through and can tell our story,” says Manchester teacher Kathryn Atwater.
“I’m very excited to have a teacher running for Congress,” says Portland teacher Jerome Manning.
Fairfield teacher Marion Richard adds, “It’s awesome. She should be an inspiration to all of us.”
Attacks on school funding, public education, and teachers are coming from the local, state, and federal levels, and in other states, teachers have lost their rights and watched their compensation, benefits, and respect decline. Teachers attending the “Be an Advocate for Your Profession” workshop at the CEA Summer Conference learned how to fight back.
Teachers learned from CEA’s Government Relations Department how to talk to other teachers about political candidates and issues, and then divided up into small groups to practice their activism by visiting the homes of fellow CEA members who live in the Fifth Congressional District to get the word out about Hayes.
Some of the teachers who had never door knocked before were a little hesitant at first, but they soon discovered that most teachers are excited to speak with fellow educators.
“I had never been door knocking before but it was a positive experience,” says Atwater. “It was nice because I was able to go with our Manchester Education Association President Kate Dias, who has done it before. It was more comfortable because we were talking to other teachers so it was nice to go up to the door having a connection.”
Atwater adds, “At one house, a little boy who answered the door with his mother asked, ‘Mom, do you know these people?’ And she responded, ‘Yeah, they’re family! They’re fellow teachers!'”
“It was a good experience even though I was a little outside of my comfort zone at first,” says Blain. “Both as a local president and personally I’d liked to be more involved politically, so this was a nice safe way to get my feet wet. I definitely appreciated the training CEA Government Relations staff Gus Melita and Chris Donovan gave us before went out into the field.”
Retired Southington teacher Bob Brown says that the first house he and his team visited belonged to a ninety-one year old woman. They weren’t sure what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when she readily told them, “I’ve already submitted my absentee ballot, and I voted for Jahana!”
CEA President Jeff Leake will be speaking at a Rally for Hayes that will take place this Saturday from 11am – 12pm on the Meriden Green, followed by canvassing local neighborhoods. All are invited to attend.