Planting Seeds for the Future

by NSEA President Jenni Benson

It may sound cliché but I learn something every day. Sometimes I need to look for it. Mostly, I learn from others and from events around me. I also love to learn from the past and apply it to my present.

This time of year, I am especially melancholy about the past. My work as your president has taken me 12,000 miles in my car over the past four months. I use that “windshield time” to think and learn. I don’t mind the travel – the sights and sounds of fall remind me of harvest and my family. My father worked at a grain elevator for nearly 50 years. My grandfather farmed into his 80s, and lived to be almost 102 years old. Both men imparted a great deal of wisdom to me.

Recently, my time on the road brought me the beautiful gift of watching our Nebraska farmers harvesting their crops. I shared much of what I’d learned about farming and harvest with NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell as we motored nearly 2,000 miles on our trip to Gering for the Cowboy Up Advocacy Conference, and then on to Oklahoma City for a regional meeting with our education colleagues. I regaled her with stories of my grandparents’ farm and our family excursions to the Nebraska Sandhills. It was an enjoyable trip down memory lane for me – and reminded me that those memories are filled with important learnings.

Intertwined in my stories were things I have learned and continue to learn about myself and my decision to become an educator. I learn more and more about this job and the wonderful work of our members as I crisscross our great state and meet with members and other Nebraskans. It is a privilege and honor.

A Wonderful New Crop

Recently, three events galvanized my hope for the future of our teaching profession. As we work each day in our classrooms, we realize that our students are going to grow up to be accountants, nurses, farmers, attorneys, carpenters…and teachers. Let me assure you that we are growing and preparing to graduate a wonderful new crop of teachers!

In early November, I attended the fall conference of the Student Education Association of Nebraska (SEAN) at Peru State College. I am so proud of these aspiring educators. Our NSEA staff did a great job helping the student leadership plan a diverse and thought-provoking learning opportunity.

Among other things, these student members raised nearly $1,100 to donate to a hurricane ravaged school in Port Arthur, TX. They also learned from a diverse group of speakers, including a panel of three who addressed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) issue.

Passion for the Profession

Two weeks later, more than 400 high school students who are considering education as a career attended the Educators Rising Showcase of Teaching held at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In breakout sessions, the students watched as practicing teachers presented lesson plans in their area of discipline. The students were impressive! Equally impressive were the 25 or so Educators Rising chapter advisors. You can tell the advisors have a passion for the profession and work diligently and creatively to teach and cultivate young minds, moving more students to consider the teaching profession.

Through a competitive grant program, NSEA received support from NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund to grow the Educators Rising organization in the state. In the past nine months the grant has helped about a dozen new chapters get started across the state, or get into the early stages of organization. The grant has effectively doubled the number of chapters in Nebraska, and we’re aiming for more.

Helping Young Educators

And finally, members at the 2017 Delegate Assembly approved a New Business Item directing NSEA to focus on the needs of early career educators – those in their first seven years of teaching. A committee met to brainstorm and collaborate on ideas to meet the unique needs of those beginning their teaching career. We are now working with NEA to plan and develop the resources we need to support those members. Soon we’ll be sending a survey to those new-to-the-profession members to solicit their input as we plan to meet their needs.

Just as Nebraska farmers do, we are thinking ahead to spring and the planting of seeds for the future. Watch us grow!