Education is - and always will be - an important and powerful ally for equity.

In the fifth grade, when our teacher gave us an assignment to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I wrote about becoming a cosmetologist. Up until this point, I had not given a career in education much thought. My mom was a “stay-at-home” mom—a full time job in its own right. So were both my grandmothers. I don’t know if anyone ever asked them what career they wanted to pursue or if it was just a foregone conclusion that they would work in the home. Throughout Women’s History Month (March), I found myself reflecting on those who opened doors for women like me to become math teachers, athletic coaches and association leaders.

Women in Education
Title IX had a huge impact on my life both as an educator and a coach. By the time I took my first teaching position, Title IX had already changed the course of education for women and girls. I grew up in western Iowa playing sports just like my mom and all girls—or so I thought. I was surprised when I started teaching and coaching in Nebraska that many of the teams I was helping coach had only existed for a few short years—after the passage of Title IX.

In the 50-plus years since its implementation, many still think only of Title IX's impact on women's athletics but it’s so much more than that. It requires that women and girls be provided equal opportunities in education, free from discriminatory barriers. It opened the doors for women to pursue many careers in all fields, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It was my passion for math that led me to teaching.

Pioneers Before Me
The gender pay gap was and still is a battle we’re fighting in America. I was seven years into my professional career and had just started teaching in Fremont when I learned of the local association’s role in fighting for equal pay in education. Many of my union brothers and sisters shared the association’s important role in fighting the pay discrepancies between men and women while also rallying against the blatant pay discrimination between elementary teachers and high school teachers. It drove me to want to do more. I could see that change was possible and that I could have a seat at the table through my association to positively influence the education field.   

Women in Leadership
Jodean Bridges was head of the Fremont English Department and a veteran teacher by the time I arrived at Fremont Public Schools. As part of a mentoring program, I was allowed to observe Jodean in her classroom. Even though I was a math teacher, and she was an English teacher, observing her taught me so much about what it means to be a leader and an educator. In this environment, I thrived in my professional career and sought ways to give back. I found my path through the Fremont Education Association. I served as an FEA delegate to NSEA's Delegate Assembly, and then became a local building representative before being elected FEA vice president. In the early 1990s, I was elected to serve as president of FEA. It was through my local association leadership that I eventually came to work at NSEA. I’m now the fourth woman to lead as executive director of the NSEA and it is an honor to serve.

Why it Matters
Public education is on the front lines of equality. Classrooms provide space for young women to be inspired to pursue careers their parents could never imagine. Beyond gender, my hope is that all students feel their classrooms are a space to explore a new world of possibilities. I hope that new and veteran educators feel valued and empowered through their local and state education associations to continue the work of educators before them. Education is—and always will be—an important and powerful ally for equity.