Advocacy, a Voice and a Chance to ‘Move the Needle’

During his early years at Millard’s Russell Middle School, Grant Christiansen was a full-fledged member of the Millard Education Association and the NSEA.

When it came time to start thinking about raising a family, Christiansen a skilled and technical sciences teacher, turned to a lesser organization – the American Association of Educators – to save a few bucks and maintain liability insurance.

“I just wanted liability insurance. As an industrial technology teacher, it’s not an option to not have that,” he said.

As Christiansen eventually learned, the ancient adage is true: you get what you pay for. The AAE’s membership fee was cheaper, but aside from liability coverage, very little was offered.

On the other hand, Christiansen sees great value in NSEA membership. Along with liability insurance, he cites advocacy, contract negotiations, and the chance to have a voice in Association and school district matters as some of the benefits.

On-the-Ground Advocacy

His early-career decision to leave NSEA for AAE was strictly financial. Christiansen joined AAE, had the insurance, received an occasional mailer and little else.

 “With AAE, I never talked to anybody there, ever,” he said. “I didn’t have an issue, so I didn’t need to talk to them, but I also didn’t have any advocacy. I didn’t have any knowledge of what was going on within my district through them.”

As his career progressed, as his teaching skills grew, as he took on leadership positions and responsibility, he better understood the benefits of Millard Education Association and NSEA membership.

“Before that, I really didn’t understand the value I was getting,” he said.

A pair of teaching colleagues – Christiansen refers to them as his mentors – talked to him about NSEA membership and he rejoined. “Then they talked me into being a building representative, and now I’m kind of on the inside and truly know the value of membership,” he said.

As a building rep, he has repeatedly seen, firsthand, one of the key benefits of membership: on-the-ground advocacy for members in need of assistance.

Quick Service

“I know, from my experience as a building rep, that I wouldn’t get an AAE person in my building the same day if I needed it,” he said. Christiansen knows that with a call, NSEA Organizational Specialist Andy Isaacson, assigned to Millard, can be on-site within 24 hours, and in most cases, sooner.

“I know I can have that if I need it,” said Christiansen. He has referred colleagues to Isaacson, who is “in instant contact with them, advocating quickly, working towards a solution that day and guiding that person right through what they need to do.

“That gives me a lot more confidence as a building rep, knowing that I have that resource available right away,” he said.

‘Move the Needle’

Early on, Christiansen didn’t understand the Association role in bargaining for salary and benefits.

“I know I got the contract every year. I didn’t know how that was put together, so I felt a little disenfranchised,” he said. That changed as he began to get more involved.

“As I started to learn more about how negotiations work, what the sausage-making process looks like, I understand that the money I pay is a value for the advocacy we have,” he said.

Membership also gives him a voice. “I go to meetings and let my word be heard. And sometimes I get to move the needle a little bit,” he said.

His advice to a non-member?

“It’s the best $70 a month you're going to spend to protect your career, and not only your personal career, but the bigger career – teaching as a whole,” he said.