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My local union prez starts the new school year with a challenge to members to get involved.

August 19, 2011

PREA President Erin Breen.

Every year at my district’s opening day activities our Park Ridge Education Association local president joins the superintendent and board president in welcoming back the staff.

Our President Erin Breen spoke with passion about the challenges teachers face and the need for all members to step up.

Erin’s words were received with a rousing standing ovation that sent a powerful message to all present.

Good morning Dr. Bender, Board Members, Administrators, and colleagues. Well, the good news is that we don’t have to start on a Friday next year! As I sat down and thought about what I wanted to say as we begin our journey into another school year, I was not sure the direction that should be taken.

Kind of like when you pull up MapQuest with options that offer various ways to get to the same destination. I wanted to take the shortest and most direct route, so I decided to make this message as simple and painless as possible today. Welcome Back!

Once again we start a year full of excitement and wonder with new students eager to learn and grow. That’s why we do what we do! Unfortunately, because of the microscope that our profession has been under lately, we have a gray cloud looming over us. We find ourselves wondering what is going to happen to public education as we know it? Will it even exist 10 years down the road?

I don’t know about you, but for the first time in my career, I have found myself being almost combative when defending what I do to those who are misinformed or partially knowledgeable about how many hours I work, how much money I deserve ( now and when I retire – that’s if I can), what benefits I should or should not get, and how much I actually contribute (yes, my money, every paycheck) to my pension which may be gone by the time I need it!

The reason I am bringing up these sensitive and very public topics is because this is the year, if any year, ALL of us need to take on a role as an active member of our professional organization.

Remember how we talked about change last year and how uncomfortable we are with it? Well, bigger and more intense change is on its way- federally, at the state level, and locally. We are used to advocating to various degrees for the well-being of every student we have in our care, but what we are NOT comfortable with is fighting for ourselves as educators!

What is becoming more apparent to me every day is that if we don’t stand actively united and defend what we do and believe in, then the environment we teach in and those children we would go into battle for will be impacted.

Last Spring, we showed our unity when we came together and successfully inudated Springfield with our concern over the direction our representatives were going with our pensions. That collective effort sent a very strong message about how committed we our to saving our teachers and schools!

A few weeks ago, I was waiting in the airport as I was heading to California for my high school reunion. A lady,I would guess she was probably in her mid 40’s, sat down next to me, and we started talking. She started by asking me what I did for a living and if I was from Chicago. When I told her that I was a teacher and taught in the area, she said, “Oh, I am a teacher too! I am on my way back home to Colorado Springs.” She had shared with me that she was a middle school teacher and had missed the first week of school because she had gone to care for her ill father. She immediately asked, “How is it teaching in Illinois? You know, in Colorado, they have done away with tenure, seniority, and our right to strike. It’s really different.” As I sat there listening to her matter-of-factly telling me all of the things that educators were experiencing in Colorado, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh! I have to share this with my membership! This is exactly what could happen to us if we do not act now!” In fact, Senate Bill 7 has already changed what tenure and seniority will look like for us. As we said our good-byes and were on our way, she said, “Well, good luck with everything. I hope you don’t end up like us.” Her words echoed in my mind for the entire trip out west.

I am not naturally confrontational, but I am getting there! I’m a bit more outspoken than I used to be (or some might say that I just talk a lot)! My message to you is that the things we have always taken for granted, are no longer guaranteed! This is a negotiating year – OUR salary, OUR benefits, OUR tenure, OUR seniority, and OUR evaluations being tied to student performance are just a few of the reasons to get out of your comfort zone and voice your beliefs, opinions and values. It may take you to another comfort level, but that’s where we need you now!

Those that represented us and made us proud have come to another point in their career. It is now our turn to continue paving the path they have created!

I do hope that all of us can make a choice and committment to be an active member this year. Promise yourself to know your contract, make a phone call, be a supportive presence at meetings, take on a new leadership role, or research current issues. Collectively we need to make a difference! Join me on this journey!

Thank you! Have a wonderful year!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lill L. permalink
    August 19, 2011 5:32 pm

    Erin, your speech was magnificent. I am proud to be represented by a union president who cares so deeply about our hard-won rights and benefits. Each and every one of us has to stand together and do what we must to ensure that the State of Illinois honors the pension commitment it made to us. If not us, who? If not now, when? Although conflict is difficult for some, we can’t let our feelings get in the way of standing up for ourselves. Have a great year!

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