This is my 4th NEA RA. Usually I’m here as a rep. Shout out Washington State and specifically the Spokane Education Association. This day is always my favorite. The day we hear from the NEA Friend of Education—congrats—and, the opportunity to hear from one of our own. I never could’ve imagined I would be the one standing in front of you as your 2018 National Teacher of the Year. That’s totally crazy, right? I am humbled and honored, because I know I am surrounded by accomplished educators every day including all of you here today. If I have learned anything on this journey, it’s that awesome work is being done in our schools because of the collective voice of our National Education Association.
As most of you know, I recently delivered notes from my immigrant and refugee students to the President. One student communicated his desire to be able to stay here in the United States and attend university to become an IT Specialist. He’s spent the last year worried that he will be forced to leave our country and return to a nation that is not safe for him. Unfortunately, the rhetoric and policies coming out of the White House confirm his fears. In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, SCOTUS upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not ALL students feel wanted, welcomed, loved, enough, or that they matter.
I can speak all day on these issues, but those impacted most are our students. Our future. And, frankly, right now, our students are our role models. They’re showing us the true power of a collective voice. That’s why, I’m passing the mic today.
Thanks to the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Dr. Amy Hewitt-Olatunde, and the 2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Tom Rademacher, I would like to welcome, Iya, Nima, and Faaya.
(Iya, Nima, and Faaya speak)
Let’s give one more round of applause for these tremendous students. Not only have they shown us the awesome impact of wonderful educators like Amy and Tom, but they also teach us how to keep on marching, and, ultimately they give us hope.
This past year we’ve had some pretty awesome examples of the power of a collective voice. West Virginia. Oklahoma. Arizona. Colorado. Kentucky.
And…most importantly, like Iya, Nima, and Faaya, our students, who have walked out across our nation to advocate for themselves, are showing us how it’s done. They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful!
With that in mind, I’d like to close with the story of one of my students.
Safa came to the U.S. in 2012 as a refugee from Sudan. She faced many traumas during her journey to the United States. So, at 15 years old, as a high school freshman newly arrived in the United States, Safa had only completed the fourth grade, knew very little English, and was expected to graduate in four years. But, Safa was focused and driven and graduated in 2016, only four short years after coming to our nation. She is starting her junior year at Eastern Washington University where she is studying to be an elementary school teacher and she recently became a citizen. Together, we visited our state capital where Safa testified in front of the legislative k-12 committees on behalf of herself and other English language learners. Just like these amazing students you heard from today, Iya, Nima, and Faaya, Safa is a shining example of the potential all of our students represent.
Look at the power of our collective voice through NEA. Let’s use that power to ensure ALL of our students feel welcomed, loved, that they are enough, and that they are matter. Thank you for allowing us to be with you today! Thank you for this incredible work! We truly are stronger together.