This is Our Reality

by Maddie Fennell, NSEA Executive Director

Thirty-one years ago, I attended my first Delegate Assembly as a member of the Student Education Association. I’ve been a member of this Association longer than I’ve taught and I’m very proud of that fact.

It’s because of people like you that I succeeded as a teacher. It’s because of leaders in the Association that I’ve met that I’m able to serve as the 14th executive director and only the third woman executive director in Association history. It’s a humbling honor and one I take very seriously.

During my first few weeks on the job I met with every staff member. I was taken aback by the tremendous passion, caring and commitment staff showed not only to each of you, but to every student.

Know this: Someone always has your back when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You have the NSEA staff working for you around the clock.

Our Reality

Your Association is fiscally sound and healthy. While we are healthy, it is a very precarious time for teachers and unions. Our biggest threats aren’t in Washington, D.C. They lie across the street from the NSEA building – in the legislature and the governor’s mansion.

There are those who want to destroy public schools and your Association. They work to elect politicians who vote to severely limit public school resources and attack teachers’ unions. Meanwhile, public school teachers are blamed for a lack of student progress. That “lack of progress” leads to so-called “reform” like charter schools, vouchers, grading schools A-F, lowering the bar for educators and attacking teacher retirement.

This is our reality; we can see the above happening right now in Nebraska. You see it as our own governor chooses to recognize Charter Schools Week, yet refuses to honor the state’s public school teachers with a proclamation honoring NSEA’s 150th anniversary.

The bottom line is this: NSEA doesn’t care whether an elected official has an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ behind his or her name, as long as that official has an ‘E’ and a ‘K’ – for Education and Kids – in their heart. That’s what we care about.

Develop That Relationship

I have three requests of you.

First, I ask that you be politically active. Every decision in education is a political decision. The number students in your room, your salary, your duty-free lunch – all are political decisions.

To protect our students and our profession, we must be active in elections. We need you for the serious role of candidate recommendation teams. We need you to campaign and vote for those ‘E’ and ‘K’ candidates! You must knock on doors with and talk about our recommended candidates – with your families, your book group, in the grocery line.

We can’t outspend the Koch brothers but we can out walk them. They’re not going to be knocking on doors, and they’re not known or trusted in our communities like you are! You can make a huge difference in elections!

Second, develop your relationship with your senator. If you got ‘em elected, keep supporting them. If you didn’t get them elected, treat them like that special, challenging student you have to love a little bit more! Take them to coffee, call them, go to their events. They need to know you care and that you’re watching.

A New Narrative

The final request is that you support NSEA’s new value proposition.

Our business at NSEA is to make great teachers across this state. Ten years from now I don’t want anyone to say “the union protects bad teachers.” I want that narrative to be “NSEA is the group that creates and supports great teachers.”

We can afford to do this by starting a new 501c3 – Leading Excellence and Robust Networks “LEARN” – that will help fund the professional development of educators across the state.  We will welcome educators whether they are a member or not because this is what we owe our profession.  

We are the quality control guardians of our profession, not the Legislature!

As much as I love this Association, I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this with the fantastic staff we have. We need to engage every educator – member or not – in this fight. It is truly a fight for public education in this country.  

If we don’t take on the fight now, the battle is lost and the other side will have won. As professional educators, we must model for our students how to stand up for ourselves, our profession and our students.

Editor’s Note: This month’s column is a synopsis of Executive Director Maddie Fennell’s comments at Delegate Assembly on April 22.