Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Top Ten Reasons to Be a Proud NEA Member

It never fails: at least once a year somebody asks me why I give my hard-earned dollars and precious hours to the National Education Association, KNEA, and ONEA. My response usually seems to satisfy the asker’s immediate curiosity, but I’ve never been satisfied with it. So, here’s the response that does satisfy me.

10. Cha Ching! NEA Member Benefits
I’ll be honest . . . I am not a big coupon or discount person. On a recent plane ride home from Orlando, I had a fellow NEA member tell me all about how she saves the equivalent of her dues money each year from the NEA Magazine Service, NEA Click and Save, and discounts on home and auto insurance, among other benefit perks. I would imagine that this energetic elementary school teacher also loves watching Extreme Couponing. While I can’t say that I’ve explored all of the membership benefit options, I can say that my 14-year-old loves cats, so I subscribe to Cat Fancy for free. I am pretty sure that paying actual money for that magazine would hurt my soul. But, on a more serious note, when I went through the National Board Certification process, I secured a low-interest loan through NEA Benefits to cover part of the fees until my district reimbursed me. All in all, NEA Member Benefits are just a nice hidden perk of something much, much larger.

9. Connecting to the Cool Kids
Because of my work at the local and state level, I have met the coolest people. They are passionate, educated, and even a bit crass at times. Without my ONEA work, I would have never come to know the likes of Kate Thompson, Anna Koehne, Brett Parker, Calin Kendall, Kathy Meyer, Linda Albee, Sara Schnug, Leigh Ann Rogers, Tiffany Huitt, Sara Mochel, Connie Welch, Holly Laflen, Drew Thomas, Erin Meyer, and Christie Jepson in the interesting ways I know each of them. And if you know just a couple of the names on the list, consider yourself lucky. If you want to know more, you know where to find the cool kids now!

8. Feeding My Inner Geek
From NEA Today to Lily’s Blackboard to the NEA Twitter account, I devour just about anything written about education. My “go-to” source of high quality information about education is NEA. Period.

7. Professional Security
As a teacher, I serve many, many masters. From students to parents to administrators to colleagues, the work I do every day is visible to the public, and sometimes doing what is right for students means making somebody else unhappy. While my legislature is doing its best to take away any protection to do the right thing in these situations, I know I have liability insurance and legal support in the absolute worst case scenario. Can you find liability insurance cheaper through some other organization? Sure. But, I challenge you to find lawyers who know more about education law than those employed by NEA and KNEA.

6. Pulling My Own Weight in Collective Bargaining
In the Olathe School District, and districts across the state as well as the nation, representatives from the local association sit down with representatives from the district to negotiate everything from salary to insurance to working conditions. Some years, this process is easier than others. But the recent state budget fiasco and attacks on teacher rights have made the process much more strenuous. I am immensely thankful for the people who negotiate on my behalf. In the end, I look at paying my dues as paying my part for the collective good. As a single mom supporting two teenagers without any financial assistance, I manage to support my family AND do my part.

5.One Organization, Many Opinions
I know some people get caught up in the whole “But I’m against____” argument for not joining. I’ve heard that blank filled with everything from abortion to protecting bad teachers. Putting aside the fact that NEA isn’t “for” abortion or protecting bad teachers, my response to that argument has always been to ask, “What large organization are you a member of whose members you agree with 100%?”. If you are a Christian, do you agree with the opinions of all Christians? What about if you’re Muslim? A pro-gun rights activist? I’ve chatted with NEA members who are pro-lifers, Republicans, and Ex-Gays, and we still had a common interest: education. I love the fact that 3 million people with such diverse opinions can join together for a common passion.

4. Passion by Association
I am a magnet to passionate people. When I hear people speak and passion runs out of their pores, I hang on each syllable. So, this summer, I heard some of the most passionate people on the planet speak about education: I was star struck. You will be too once you take just a few minutes to listen to Shanna Peeples, National Teacher of the Year; Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President; John Stocks, NEA Exectuive Director; or Jose Lara, the 2015 Social Justice Award Winner. Trust me, each of these speakers is worth way more than that cat video you were about to watch!

3. UNION Pride
While some people shy away from the “U” word, I am proud member of the largest labor union in the United States. And in case you are one of those people who think the “U” word is a dirty word: check this out: 36 Things Unions Made A Reality.

2. Feeding My Inner Activist
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s sitting back and complaining without action. My involvement in NEA has sharpened my inner activist. From tweeting legislators, to calling local voters for school board elections, to walking to Topeka—I’ve done a bit of everything. And I can’t wait to see what’s next!

1. Power of the Profession
This summer, I served as an elected delegate to the 2015 NEA Representative Assembly. I am lucky to have been elected to attend the RA five times. The RA is where I learned more about many of the cool kids. The RA is where I refuel on passion, often drained by the stress of the prior school year. But, most importantly, the RA is where I feel most connected to the power of my profession. When I sit in a room with nearly 10,000 other education professionals, engaged in discussions and debates about social justice and youth issues, I know I am home. I know I am part of something bigger than myself. I know I am a teacher.

What would you add to my list of reasons?