The future teachers of the United States “should be really angry,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said Sunday at the opening plenary of the NEA Student Leadership Conference in Orlando.
“You have lived under this little thing called No Child Left Untested. How many of you thought it was the most inspirational thing that Congress has passed?” Eskelsen García asked. The focus of federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as NCLB, since its reauthorization in 2002, has been on a “factory-model” style of education, she said, that reduces children to their test scores and disrespects the role of teachers in public education.
But with the Senate scheduled to take up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on July 7, NEA Student members have the chance to get their voices heard and shape their future profession. “You are powerful!” Eskelsen García told the future teachers, urging them to contact Congress now. “All you need to do is say, ‘I’m about to join the ranks of the most important profession. Give me what I need to do my job — and it isn’t a high-stakes test.”
The Senate bill is an improvement, but still needs some work especially with regard to closing opportunity gaps so that every student has access to a well-rounded education, no matter their zip code.
“NCLB is all we know,” said NEA Student Program chair Chelsey Herrig, who like most current college students spent most of her elementary and secondary years in public school classrooms governed by the high-stakes tests. “The second somebody mentions ‘toxic testing,’ we’re all nodding our heads. And honestly I don’t want to get into the profession if that’s what I’m going to be doing to my students. It turns a lot of people away teaching.”
The NEA Student Leadership Conference is a three-day opportunity for future teachers who belong to NEA through campus-based chapters across the country to get together. They attend professional development workshops (how to use technology in your future classroom, for example) and also network with current and retired teachers, developing relationships that will assist them for years to come.
“Welcome to your future. You have so much to do and so little time,” Eskelsen García told them on Sunday. “You are about to start this incredible journey as teachers but you are already so much further along than many of your colleagues — because you are here in this room with your union.”
Research shows that new teacher retention is improved by a wide range of working conditions, including salaries, but also the presence of a high-quality mentor, training, collegial relationships, and resources. As NEA Student members, these future teachers are laying the foundation for long, successful, student-focused careers.
On Sunday, the NEA Student Program also awarded several of its members with annual awards, including: James MacGregor of the Youngstown Student Education Association, the Outstanding Local Leader award; Runda Alamour of Student – North Carolina Association of Educators, the Outstanding State Leader award; and Rebecca Nannini of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Outstanding Underclassman Award.