Challenge the Future

by Nancy Fulton, NSEA President

As I contemplated writing my final article as your president, I reflected briefly on how swiftly these six years have slipped by.

I truly appreciate the confidence you have expressed in me and the dedication you have for our Association and for our students.  

I am proud that NSEA members have worked for 150 years to promote education, our profession and, as was stated in the Association’s first constitution, to elevate “the profession of teaching and promoting the interests of schools in Nebraska.”

Other than becoming more student-centered, our mission has not changed. Take a minute to imagine teaching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the changes our country was experiencing. One room schoolhouses were the norm in rural states like Nebraska and my home state of Iowa.

I started my education as a kindergartener in the small, one room Liberty School, being one of two kindergarteners in a school of about 15 students in grades one through eight. Our lone teacher, Mrs. Vander Linden taught us all.

While I didn’t have to walk five miles up hill both ways to get to school, I did ride my bike about two miles on gravel roads most days. Just imagine the autonomy that Mrs. Vander Linden experienced as a teacher in that school.

School consolidation forced Liberty School to close that year and I began 12 years of riding a yellow school bus to and from school, sometimes up to 90 minutes at a time.

No Regrets

I spent the next few years at a satellite school with one teacher assigned to every two grades. I loved listening to Mrs. Ruthvan teach the third graders, while pretending to do my second-grade lessons. I had the opportunity to do a practicum with Mrs. Ruthvan during college and enjoyed going back to my elementary school.

I graduated with a class of 200 in the 1970’s – when there was much change following the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. Students were rebellious and challenging existing social norms. My graduating class was no different. Our motto was “We are the class of 1972, bound to be true, and different.” We voted to challenge the system, to bypass the traditional baccalaureate ceremony and graduate in street clothes, not caps and gowns. You can imagine the resistance we received from our school administration and parents.

I then attended college in the same conservative, culturally-rich community – and became a teacher. In the 40 years since, I’ve had no regrets. I remember my first day of my first year as vividly as I recall my last day in the classroom.

Never Rest

My personal history in the education field has shaped me as a teacher, just as history and heritage has shaped today’s NSEA.

In 1937, the continuing contract law was passed, requiring boards of education to vote to dismiss a teacher before April 15 or the teacher’s contract would automatically renew. The first due process law was passed in 1943, allowing for a probationary period, although it took until 1971 for it to apply to teachers outside of Lincoln an Omaha.

The Nebraska Teacher Retirement System was initiated in 1945, the Court of Industrial Relations was created in 1947, a group health insurance plan for teachers in 1959, and a collective bargaining law in 1967. Many of these rights are, frankly, taken for granted today.

Those were major accomplishments, but we should not ever accept the status quo. We must dream for the future, work to maintain relevance, and seek to influence public education in a positive manner for years to come.

The Wisdom of Investment

That is made ever difficult by the rising level of attacks on our union and our public schools.

Our task is further hardened in that we are in competition with others for attention, respect and a fair share of state tax revenues. We must continue to encourage policymakers to see the wisdom of investing in education. It’s an investment that will see the greatest return on taxpayer money and will strengthen the entire economy.

That message, however, must come from you. There are powerful individuals and interest groups that do not want us to have a voice – and they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to silence us. Always remember that you have every right – and the responsibility – to be vocal in the political process.

Academy award winning actress Ruth Gordon said “Courage is a muscle, like a muscle, it strengthens by use. The more you exercise it the stronger it gets.”

We will continue to celebrate our past. We also must be committed exercising our courage and challenging the future.

My sincere thanks to each of you for your support of children, education and NSEA – our professional Association.