If Not Now, When?

by Maddie Fennell, NSEA Executive Director

During my first weeks at NSEA, I have spent a lot of time reading, asking questions and listening. In fact, I met with every member of our staff individually to learn more about them personally, the work that they do and the ideas they have to strengthen our Association.

I have been humbled by the level of passion and commitment our staff has to each of you as members, to our students, and to our mission of a great public education for every student.

We are in very challenging times as a union and as educators. While we are going to need the skills and talents of our committed staff, the staff alone will never be enough. We are going to have to leverage the collective voice, leadership and power of every one of our 28,000 members if we are going to beat back those who seek to tear apart not only our Association, but our profession and our public school system.

While much has been said about what is facing education nationally with our new secretary of education, it is important to realize that we have critical issues within our own state borders that could affect your classroom and your compensation much more quickly than any decisions made by Secretary DeVos.

How Would it Hurt Students?

The REAL threats to Nebraska’s public education system and our profession in our legislature include:

  • A proposal to replace the retirement Rule of 85 with the Rule of 90 for new school employees (LB415);
  • A plan to essentially allow high school grads to serve as substitute teachers (LB568, LB650);
  • Voucher (LB608) and charter school (LB630) schemes;
  • A plan to require every third grade student to pass a reading proficiency test before advancing to fourth grade (LB568);
  • A proposal to eliminate the only state-funded program designed to enhance K-12 teacher professionalism (LB214);
  • The potential elimination of the payroll dues deduction option for Association membership for teachers, police and firefighters (LB503); and
  • A plan to grade K-12 schools on a ‘A’ to ‘F’ basis (LB662).

To every member of NSEA, I ask a question and offer a challenge: have you contacted any state senator about these toxic bills? If not, please do so. Your message need not be long. It can be a phone call or an email; tell your senator how the bill would hurt you and your students.

No Time for Complacency

Take it a step further: combat the negative stereotypes of teaching and public education by inviting elected leaders into your school. Show them the tremendous work being done in spite of daunting challenges. We will never change the narrative unless we get people into our schools to see and experience what we are doing. In that way, they can personally attest to the learning that goes on in Nebraska’s great public schools every single day.

This is no time to be complacent or to think “Someone else can do that stuff; I just want to teach.” Just last month our colleagues in Iowa LOST collective bargaining rights and dues deduction in a matter of days (see page 5). Can you imagine what your salary, benefits and working conditions would be if you had no choice but to accept what your school board offered?

Can you imagine what it would be like to have no voice at all at the negotiations table?

From the bills mentioned above, to the national movement against unions and collective bargaining pushed by groups like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity, you can understand why every one of our members must exercise their rights and hold our elected leaders accountable. To be an educator means to advocate; that advocacy must occur inside and outside of the classroom.

An Early Lesson

One of the first things I learned as a Student Education Association of Nebraska (SEAN) member was “Every decision in education is a political decision.” That still rings true. We can’t bury our heads in our classrooms and hope that someone else will stop the tidal wave against our profession and public education. That someone is YOU.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder is largely credited with formulating the Golden Rule. He also said “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

NOW is the time for you to speak up and lead. NSEA and every child in Nebraska is counting on you.