NEA Executive Director: We Must Give Voice to the New Generation of Educators

NEA's Executive Director John Stocks gives speech to 95th Representative Assembly n Washington, D.C.

Momentous and lasting changes are underway in the nation’s public schools. The student population is more racially and culturally diverse, and digital technology is reshaping teaching and learning. But another significant transformation is in progress, NEA Executive Director John Stocks told the NEA Representative Assembly on Wednesday.

“There is a major generational shift happening in our workplaces…and it’s accelerating,” Stocks said. In public schools, more than 2 million new educators will be entering the workforce over the next five years alone.

The challenges this new generation of educators will face and the role NEA can and must play in helping them excel at their careers was the focus of Stock’s address to the 7,000 delegates gathered in the Washington D.C. Convention Center.

Strong public schools depend on strong unions, so the NEA must ensure the next generation of educators are supported in their practice, provided a voice in their professions, and given an opportunity to lead on their passion for justice for their students.

But do they understand, as they enter the workplace, how relevant their association can and will be to them and their students?

Probably not, Stocks said, because this new generation has vastly different life experiences – and different expectations – than their predecessors. We cannot expect a Millennial entering the profession today to reflexively draw knowledge and inspiration from the historic victories that advanced social and economic justice decades ago, he added.

“For most of them, the civil rights and labor movements are something they’ve only read about in history books. It’s clear to me that what worked for our union so well for so long…isn’t going to be enough anymore.”

“We must become relevant to them, to help them meet the changing needs of their students…to help them be successful educators, and to tap into their idealism,” Stocks continued. “And we must act with urgency.

It’s time to stop talking and start listening, Stocks said. NEA shouldn’t tell new educators what they want or need to succeed, it should ask them what they need. Don’t tell them what the union can do for them, ask them how the union can help them.

Delegates raise their hands during NEA Executive Director John Stocks' speech at the 95th Representative Assembly in Washington, D.C.
Delegates raise their hands during NEA Executive Director John Stocks’ speech at the 95th Representative Assembly in Washington, D.C.

The NEA and its affiliates are already immersed in this urgent work, creating pathways in every district to hold one-on-one conversations with potentially every single one of the 173,000 new hires entering our schools in the fall.

Ambitious? Definitely. And maybe even a little crazy, Stocks joked, but he stressed that it’s up to every educator inside and outside the hall to define the union for this new generation. If educators don’t, he warned, someone else will.

“If we don’t reach out to them 1-to-1 and support them, our students will lose, our schools will lose…and our union will lose.”

Stocks recounted recent conversations with first-year teachers that were both inspiring and heartbreaking. They all love their students and are determined to succeed but they are also overwhelmed, don’t feel supported and are fighting off discouragement.

These new educators tend to look to the colleagues for support, and that’s all of you, Stocks told the delegates. But here’s the catch: they probably don’t know that their colleagues are the union.

Engaging this new generation, Stocks said, “is a simple act totally within our control.”

“That is our responsibility to the millions of students and educators who need us to give them a greater voice. And that is our legacy to the new educators coming of age who will someday soon fill this great hall, take up the gavel, champion the cause… and make their own history. “