Remarks as prepared for delivery by Saul Ramos, 2017 Education Support Professional of the Year, to the 96th NEA Representative Assembly

BOSTON – July 03, 2017 –

12:16 p.m. EDT

Thank you Lily…

And thank you NEA Delegates for your warm welcome.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to NCESP President Debby Chandler and MTA leaders Barbara Madeloni, Erik J. Champy, the MTA Executive Committee & the MTA Board of Directors…

To the amazing leader of my local, the Educational Association of Worcester, Roger Nugent.

I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out to my MTA mentors — Jean Fay, Donna Johnson, Kathy Meltsakos, and Bobby Travers…

And of course to my fellow Massachusetts delegates — Where are you? Make some noise!

I know the 2016 ESP of the Year is also here — Doreen McGuire Grigg. And of course I want to honor all of our former ESP of the year and 2017 ESP of the Year nominees.

I have a special guest with me on stage today…Keefe Bangert. Please stand Keefe so our NEA family can see you.

Keefe Bangert is an amazing teacher for the visually impaired. I have worked with Keefe for 18 years and he has been very influential in my personal and professional life. In fact, Keefe made many of the Braille materials that I used when I became interested in learning it. Keefe is not just a great colleague but he is also a great friend and advocate for me and the work that I do… Thank you Keefe for all that you have done for me and my career.

I’d like to begin my speech today by telling you about just one of my amazing students, Thien Nguyen.

All of my students have success stories, but Thien is one of my favorites. At an early age, he faced the kind of obstacles that would make most of us here today feel overwhelmed and maybe even defeated. But Thien has something special inside that compels him to look at his challenges a little differently than most of us.

For Thien, the trials of his life have never been stopping points, but stepping stones toward his goals. He was born premature, weighing three pounds at birth, and legally blind. He was given very little chance of survival.

But the persistence, love, and faith of his parents said otherwise. They demanded that Thien be kept on oxygen and their baby boy survived and today, his incredible story is being shared with 7,000 educators…

When I first started working with Thien, he sat in the back of the classroom, isolated and away from the rest of the students.

But the more time I spent with him, the more he trusted me, and the more he trusted me, the more he opened up, and the more he opened up the more independence he gained.

At some point I started to realize that Thien would no longer need me full time. He was taking quantum leaps forward and today, I’m proud to say Thien needs only minimum assistance in the classroom.

As an educator, you want the same success for all your students…you want them to grow more confident, more aware of their own abilities and inner strength, and more fearless in a world that can be unkind in so many ways. Thien has taught us all what it means to have the audacity to hope and believe that nothing is impossible.

Some call what I do, a job. Others say, it’s a career. But I have always believed that what I do is a calling.

You see, when you have a calling, you don’t ask the world what It needs, you instinctively go and do what makes you come alive.

If there are any questions about what makes me come alive and why I do what I do, Thien is one of my very best answers. He and all of my students are why I decided, a long time ago, that I would follow my instincts.

I never thought when I got into this profession, “that this experience is going to change everything.”

And I never thought when I got into this profession, “you are about to discover the power of purpose.”

But when you follow your calling those thoughts become a reality. It all began with hopes and dreams for my students…reminding them that someone cares about them, that their presence matters, and they too have purpose.

I never believed that being an educator was synonymous with being superhuman. However, it does mean we have a responsibility to build trust with our students, learn their names and interests, taking the time to sit down with them and let them know you are giving your all to them.

I am not different from countless other inspiring and amazing educators I have worked with over the years. I’ve had the honor of meeting many from different states at NEA events, like Tim Bell, from Utah, a custodian who did everything he could to ensure the safety of his students. He would arrive hours before his start time just to open the doors for students who were dropped off early and had no place to go, especially during the cold winter months. Not only would he open the doors for them, but he would also sit with them, mentor them, help with homework, and make sure his students were fed.

And there’s Marty Alvarez from Traverse City, Michigan, a bus driver who goes far and beyond what is asked of her.

She makes sure her students get safely to and from school, has books for them to read, holds spelling bees, and also has snacks for them. During this past winter, Marty noticed how many of her younger students had no socks. So Marty created a sock drive and gathered thousands of pairs of socks for her students, so they would be warm during the long winter months.

These educators, and so many more, whom I’m proud to call colleagues, have some things in common. They are leaders, they are passionate about their work and the success of their students. I have learned that leadership

is taking what is given to you and moving it forward. Leadership is not a big or fancy title and it doesn’t start on the stage. It starts off way in the back…in ordinary places, often with small beginnings.

This is the story of our ESP members. We don’t choose which students we work with, we don’t select and disregard the rest, we take the students we are given and pour our hearts and souls into their lives. In Massachusetts we have a little saying, “ESPs are the Heart of Public Education,” and we sure are.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a more hard-working group of individuals than our ESP members all across the country. We do everything for the benefit of our students.

We are bus drivers and bus monitors, paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, interpreters and translators, cafeteria workers, security guards, and so much more. We not only change lives, we save lives. But it doesn’t end there. We are also leaders in our associations. So to our local and state presidents, if you are looking for hardworking, determined, and passionate individuals,

THIS is the group you need to organize!

We are your connection to the students, parents and the community — ESP members live in the communities they work in.

It is imperative for ESP to stay engaged and for our affiliates to make sure that every single one of us is involved.

ESP are also voters. Politicians should be listening to educators — We are ordinary people, working to help our students succeed and build our nation’s future.

My fellow delegates to this Representative Assembly, it is more important than ever for all of us to unite and support public education. ESP members, retired, teachers, higher ed, students and parents — We must all stand strong together, and let our elected leaders know what we need as educators to nurture successful students.

And friends, we know there will be challenges and setbacks along the way, but we can’t afford to give up.

We must continue to make sure our students come first. They need us to continue to bring light and learning into their lives, and continue to inspire them to be more confident, more aware of their own abilities and inner strength, and more fearless in our changing and challenged world. Our students need to continue seeing that no matter how hard things get, they can always rely on us to make them feel secure, safe, loved, and valued.

I urge each of you to be active in your communities and get involved in the priorities of our Association. Help us fulfill the promise of our theme this year: “Uniting Our Members & the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Professionals, Successful Students.”

We — teachers and ESP — must continue to work together for the greater good of our students.

And when the going gets tough, as it surely will, there is an old Japanese saying, “Fall seven, rise eight.”

We must continue to rise and do more than just hope tomorrow will be better than today. We must depend on our collective strength to make tomorrow better for our amazing students and the future of public education.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with glaucoma. My doctor explained that through treatment, it could be controlled, but nothing was guaranteed and that one day, I might lose my sight. God has an amazing sense of humor, doesn’t she? My reply to my doctor was, “Well, at least I already know Braille.”

But more significantly, that moment revealed to me why it was so important to have a calling in your life. Because when you have a calling, there is no stopping you. When you have a calling, there are no real setbacks or obstacles, policies or politicians that can get in your way.

I may lose my sight, but I will never lose my vision for my students and for public education. Vision is unlimited. Vision is discovering something to die for not live for. Vision clarifies your purpose, empowers your direction, and makes you believe in a better world.

From my mother, who is here today, I have learned that vision is not outside of me or ahead of me, but inside of me. A forest is not ahead of a seed; it is in it. Mami, te quiero con mi vida. Gracias por ser la mejor madre del mundo. Thank you for being the best mom in the world.

To my familia and friends who are here, a big thank you for always believing in me and for being here today. It means the world to me. I do have to say that I am physically missing two people who have been so influential in my life. First, my dad, who passed away from leukemia when I was eleven years old. And my grandma, my Viejita Linda. Three years ago while at the RA in Denver, I was called home because she had fallen ill.

I rushed home and made it with enough time to receive one of her special hugs and blessings. A few days later, on July 3rd, she took her last breath, surrounded by our family. So when I was told I would speak on July 3rd, I knew it was a sign, from her, telling me how proud she is of me and that she would be here with us today.

I’ve been blessed to have strong, supportive women in my life, including our leaders, Lily, Becky and Princess.

I want to thank them and the NEA Executive Committee for all the opportunities I’ve been given, including the Minority Leadership Training, the Hispanic Caucus, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, the Paraeducator Institute, and especially the NEA ESP Leaders for Tomorrow Program. I want to give a shout out to my fellow LFT grads. It was honestly a life changing experience that I will never forget.

So to every educator here today, EACH of you is a vision that cannot be stopped. Friends, we must:

Always have hope.

See ourselves and our students as the winners that we are.

Know beyond any doubt that if we are united, if we work together — nothing is impossible and everything is possible.

Our hearts and spirits are in the right place. We are full of passion and purpose and we will continue to work together to make a difference in the lives of our students and the future of our nation.

Thank you NEA!

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