Why I Became a Member of NEA (And Why You Should Too!)

By now, you know me well enough to know that I like saying what I mean and have an aversion to acronyms and jargon. Especially corporate jargon. But I’ve come to embrace one phrase lately: value proposition.

Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. It’s actually the perfect phrase for talking about how NEA membership benefits all of us, whatever our roles in schools and colleges.

A value proposition is basically the value you receive weighed against the investment of time or money or effort that you make. No matter what we call it, we naturally make that calculation all the time in terms of decisions like where to live or what to buy or whether or not to walk or drive to the corner store.

Which brings me to the NEA’s value proposition. Membership in our union requires time, money and effort, but the value we receive is multiplied because our collective support for things that are important to all of us. Our union gives us a vehicle for coming together to advocate for public education and our students, as we did in our successful campaign to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act. Through membership, we take on bread-and-butter issues, such as pay and benefits, so we can safeguard our families. We can advocate for the common good and push for social and economic justice. And we can hone our skills and become the best practitioners possible.

Many of you appreciate the value of NEA membership and have examples of the difference it’s made for you and your students. But some of our colleagues take the gains we’ve made for granted. It’s up to us to remind them and to share the stories of what our association means to us. My own story of appreciating the value of membership is probably similar to many of yours.

I was a sixth-grade teacher outside of Salt Lake City 30 years ago, and my classroom was packed, one year, with 39 students. I was exhausted by the end of the day and frustrated that I wasn’t able to personally interact with each student. Sometimes I’d cry and wonder if I’d made the right decision to become a teacher. But I loved teaching and I loved my students and it occurred to me that there was something better than giving up what I loved.

I called the Granite Education Association. I told them I wanted to help on anything they were doing on class size reduction. They put me to work. The local president appointed me to the negotiation team to see what we might bargain on class size. The Utah Education Association organized a letter-writing campaign to petition the governor to put class size reduction funds in his budget. Thousands of us rallied at Liberty Park to protest the abysmal funding for public education that ranked us last in the nation.

And finally, we saw a bill on dedicated class size reduction funds pass the legislature and I got to watch the governor take a pen and sign it.

It didn’t change class size overnight, but I know that the value of my union was to harness our collective power to force the public debate and have our voices heard. The value was that something real was achieved that was important to me and to my colleagues.

Making that call shaped my destiny. Today, I have the opportunity to lift up your voices on the issues that matter to all of us, from reducing the role of testing so we can spend more time connecting one-on-one with students, to winning the resources every student, from pre-K through college, deserves.

It’s through the NEA that I spoke on immigration reform at the Democratic National Convention. When I spoke to the delegates in Philadelphia and to the millions of people watching at home, I was privileged to speak up for you.

Had it not been for the Utah Education Association, I might have run out the door of that overcrowded classroom all those years ago and never looked back. Sadly, that’s what happens with lots of new educators.

A National Center for Education Statistics study last year reported that about 17 percent of new teachers leave the profession after only one year. Some estimates are upwards of 30 percent.  Many new educators wish they’d had more training in how to manage their classrooms and they yearn for meaningful, relevant professional development that will give them the confidence we all needed that first year. And guess what? They can find all of what they need within our association.

Aside from providing ongoing support and outreach for more seasoned professionals, we can be a lifeline for new educators.

Delegates to the 2016 RA recognized this. They passed a new business item encouraging state and local affiliates to create programs that let new educators know that the National Education Association is there to support them. Membership means:

  • You’re never on your own. Because you’re an NEA member, you have access to high-quality professional development and authorities on education who provide you with innovative ideas and programs.
  • Your voice can be heard. We have a wealth of experience from careers in classrooms and on campuses. Through the NEA, we can have a seat at the table to offer our expertise and knowledge when policy decisions are made. Together, our voices give us power.
  • You can grow your network. Membership means not being alone. You can access resources through a variety of online and off-line tools and make connections at your school, in your state, and throughout the nation among NEA’s more than 3 million members.
  • You have a friend in powerful places. When it comes to bargaining and negotiating on important issues such as salary, working conditions and retirement benefits, together, we can move mountains. Membership also means liability insurance and much more.

What’s most valuable to me? Being part of a family filled with some of the brightest, most dedicated, passionate, energetic, optimistic people I’ve ever met. It’s a connection I love to talk about, an affiliation I am deeply proud of and an opportunity I want others to have.

Now I have a question for you: What’s the value of your NEA membership? Share it here, and share it with your colleagues – the new ones, as well as the ones you’ve been working with for years. We all need to hear your stories.

6 Responses to “Why I Became a Member of NEA (And Why You Should Too!)”

  1. Diane Slivka

    Voices, networking, and friends! Lily you hit the key reasons why NEA membership is important to me!

  2. Cathlina Bergman

    Thanks, Lily! This is exactly what I was looking for today as I prepare a display and presentation to our new teachers. As a new local president, I can use all the help I can get, and this article was perfect! Thanks!


  3. Mario Ruiz

    I am a lifelong member of CTA/NEA, and while I agree with everything Lilly has to say, I have to add that, sometimes, being involved in your local chapter can be stressful and frustrating. I love what the union is, and has done, but as a building and/or grievance rep, I have been forced to deal with the ugly side of unionism quite a few times. I have been often forced to advocate for individuals who have no right to be called teachers, just because they are members. I have been forced to grieve against well-meaning, hard working principals, on behalf of some of the meanest, most miserable people you can imagine. Once again, I agree with Lilly, most of the time, I can proudly talk about my union, but every now and then, I’m embarrassed at what we do.

  4. Robert Purington

    Dear Lily, Thanks for a realistic but optimistic history. Many of my colleagues also want the same things as I do, but are unwilling to work for them, either through a union or perhaps individually. What many people outside the union fail to understand is that a union is not a hamburger stand, where one puts down money and obtains a product or service, but a union is, rather, a way for people to work together for common goals and advantage. As long as people are unwilling to do or commit to this, I don’t know how we can get anyone to join. Your authentic and genuine history of what you accomplished in Utah, I fear, will not persuade any of my colleagues. Thanks anyway, and the cartoons were quite cute.

  5. Gail Hart

    Dear Lily,
    Thank you for this, it will be most useful to my local in trying to reach our goal of doubling our membership this year. We have made great strides in the past 7 months. I also had there pleasure of hearing you speak at the 2016 National Leadership Summit. Your passion was inspiring and I loved your touches of humor. However I would like to ask and gently remind NEA, please don’t forget the ESP (Educational Support Professionals). I am the Vice President of my local and I know first hand how often this dedicated and diverse group of employees are overlooked and not mentioned. Without them schools would not be able to operate. Thank you Lily for all you do on behalf of education and all the professionals that make it happen.

  6. Julie Naughton

    Thank you Lily, for all that you do! When I was president of my local, our administration broke our contract and changed our insurance coverage. Before this action, we tried to compromise (negotiate a change that would benefit both sides) but it did not come to fruition. Our administration could only visualize what they were dictating. We won our grievance, we won a ruling and an appeal! With all of that, our administration still refused to negotiate and compromise; they could still only visualize what they wanted to dictate! By not settling a contract, our administration knowingly forced all of our teachers to pay a 70% increase in healthcare cost for a whole year! This was our punishment for standing up for our rights! Our local members have suffered but, we have set a legal precedence for others not to suffer! With a totally new administration, we are trying to heal!


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