Remarks as prepared for delivery by Tabatha Rosproy, 2020 National Teacher of the Year, to the 99th Representative Assembly

Hello! I am Tabatha Rosproy, the 2020 National Teacher of the Year. I am a proud member of Kansas NEA and actually got to attend my first national RA last year in Houston. It was an incredible experience, and I look forward to the day we get to be back together again in person.

I teach preschool in Winfield, Kansas. Not just any preschool. My public school classroom is housed inside of a nursing home and retirement village. My 4 year old students and residents of Cumbernauld Village interact daily—in the classroom and around the facility.

This partnership benefits each age group in ways that go far beyond what I can convey today. It forges a meaningful connection between some of our community’s youngest and oldest members.(We call the resident volunteers “grandparents.) And it builds deep understanding and love between people who are different from one another.

There is a very powerful narrative about who teaches young children, and part of that narrative is the expectation of compliance. As an early childhood educator, active in my local and state NEA, am local co-president, on the negotiations team, and the Walnut Valley administrative board. When I go to regional and state events and introduce myself, people are often surprised to hear that I teach preschool. I am nearly always the only preschool teacher in the room, and one of very few elementary teachers in the room. There is an unfair idea that preschool teachers do not have the interest or ability to be involved in the workings of NEA. People assume that because we teach young children, that we may not be invested in the whole system, or that because we spend our days talking to little people, that we can’t hold our own in tough situations. But early childhood educators are some of the most highly-educated and intelligent people that I know.

I understood how important representation was when I was the first preschool teacher to join the executive team in my district, and we have been offering free public preschool for nearly 20 years. I took data for over a year with my colleagues to prove that our early learning center teachers needed additional plan time because of their heavy special education workload, and I fought for that at the negotiations table. Before that happened, it had been nearly two decades of uncompensated work on the part of the other Early Childhood Education teachers. When we discussed it as a group, many thought nothing would change or it was a fight we wouldn’t win. That old expectation of compliance was creeping in. Someone on the admin team said, “Wow, we never realized this was happening.” And that’s because we weren’t represented before; we weren’t speaking up, and nobody was asking what we needed. This applies to many underrepresented populations in our schools and communities. If you’re in a leadership position now, you have the responsibility to engage unusual voices, and if you’re not, you have the right to demand representation.

Recently, I watched a preschooler play indoor soccer, and he was doing everything 4 year olds do on the soccer field. He laid on the ground, put his shirt over his head, and hung on the goal posts. I watched his mom walk over to him, after trying to encourage him from the sidelines, thinking he was about to be in trouble, but his mom said, “Hey buddy, get up. Your team needs you.”

Your team needs you.

The NEA needs you. We need preschool voices. We need ESP voices. We need the voices of people of color and the voices of the LGBTQ community. We need equitable representation of every voice that has struggled to be heard. It is our responsibility as leaders to create a path for all voices to become a part of the process. During this pandemic, and through this revolution of racial equity, educator voice is more important than ever before. You don’t join a team to sit on the bench. You join the team to get out there and play when it’s your time. And now is your time. It is time for all educators to elevate the voices of the unheard. Look around your meetings and events and make sure diverse voices are represented. Ask yourself today – whose voices are we missing? Reach out to them, tell them how important their experiences are, and bring them into the fold.

There’s no “my kids” anymore – they are “our kids” in OUR community in OUR world.

Your struggle is my struggle.

In order to transform, we need every voice and every untold story lifted up. We are on the same team, and our team needs us.

This is our time.

Speakers