Delaware is sometimes called the “Small Wonder” state, but during my December 15 visit with members of the Delaware State Education Association from the Christina School District and their students, I got caught up in an enormous wave of enthusiasm, creativity and energy.
I’ve always said the best part of my job is visiting with NEA members across the nation who are inspiring and nurturing students. I saw them in action at Newark High School, Gallaher Elementary School and Sarah Pyle Academy.
My visit to Delaware was the result of a contest at the 2016 Representative Assembly in July. The winner, John “Woody” Woodruff, a science teacher at Newark High, might have preferred cash or a Hawaiian vacation. Well, he got me!
We know that new educators face a lot of challenges in our profession and are often unaware of the lifeline of support and encouragement they can find in their local union. The contest at the RA was a challenge to state delegations to practice having one-on-one conversations with new members. Members of state delegations with 100-percent participation were entered in a raffle, and Woody won. Or rather, I won.
In Woody’s earth science class at Newark High, I worked with a student to complete a model of a Bohr atom. I talked with Helen Morehead, an education support professional who’s been a full-time aide to the same student—now a junior—since he was in first grade. I visited the classroom of Matt Dilts, an English teacher who is creating a library in response to budget cuts several years ago that decimated libraries and media centers.
I read Green Eggs and Ham to a kindergarten class at Gallaher and talked with the “kinder union”: a tight team of kindergarten teachers, all of whom have fewer than 10 years of experience. We discussed their efforts to organize kindergarten teachers across the district, as well as their need for grade-appropriate professional development.
At Sarah Pyle, a non-traditional school with individualized and differentiated instructional approaches, students shared with me what makes their school so special. They told me that without the academy and its teachers, they would not be in school. I visited their “peace garden” and saw a beautiful mural they created.
We were treated to a surprise performance by Elbert-Palmer Elementary School’s Drum Line. The group is made up of students ages 8 to 11 who must meet high academic and behavior standards even to be selected, and then must practice on their own time and perform without using sheet music. They performed a medley of holiday tunes they learned in just three days.
Lots of the conversations with educators were about what’s going well. But we also discussed the challenges we face. One of them is the president-elect’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, a fan of unaccountable charter schools and vouchers. We talked about how important it is for us to speak out about our concerns for public education and do what we can to make sure all students have the support, tools and time to learn.
By the end of the day I was pretty tired—but fired up, too. I left Delaware feeling so proud of everyone I met there and appreciative of the work they do every single day. Most of all, I left feeling proud of our profession and grateful to be part of the NEA family. All in all, a fantastic way to end 2016.