The countdown to the 2017 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA) has begun, and I’m fired up and ready to go! Some 7,500 delegates, hailing from all corners and every state, are looking forward to debating important issues and setting our priorities and agenda. And first-time delegates who are also new to our profession are so pumped up that they just might be doing the Carlton dance by the time we convene in Boston.
One of them is Josh Halpren, an 8th-grade history teacher at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, Md.
Josh graduated in 2014 with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics and Government, as well as Secondary Education, from American University. He recently completed a post-baccalaureate certificate program in Equity and Excellence Education through a partnership between his local, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), and McDaniel College.
A year ago, Josh was elected as a Middle School Representative on MCEA’s Board of Directors, and he also serves as chair of his local’s New Educator Action Team, which engages new educators through social events, advocacy, and leadership development. (By the way: If you’re new to the profession, take a look at the resources and information NEA provides for you at SupportEd.)
So Josh, how excited are you about attending the RA?
“I am very excited about the RA! I’ve attended the Maryland State Education Association RA for the past two years and have really enjoyed the opportunity to set the agenda for our organization and to learn about the challenges facing educators in schools across the country. I think it is going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to be a part of it!”
Tell us about your path to becoming a delegate.
“Prior to becoming a teacher, I interned in the Educational Issues department at the American Federation of Teachers. I worked on all kinds of issues, from teacher evaluation to community schools. I met teacher-leaders from all over the country working on these issues. I also got to work on some of the logistics for AFT’s Convention and TEACH Conference and really loved the environment in these settings: teachers learning from each other and working to strengthen their profession and schools.
When I started teaching and joined MCEA, MSEA, and NEA, I knew I wanted to be involved in my union and to attend these events as a member and delegate. Through my work on the board of MCEA, I’ve gotten to know educators in many of our over 200 schools across diverse communities with a variety of needs. I hope that this experience will allow me to most accurately represent the viewpoints of these members.”
As a new educator, is there a particular perspective you’re hoping to bring in your role as delegate?
“As I’ve gotten more involved with my local, I believe it is more important than ever that new educators in particular step up to serve in these roles. We have unique interests that need to be heard now. Sometimes new educators can be so swamped with the sheer volume of the day-to-day work of being a teacher that we don’t seek out these roles, or others tell us that we need to wait our turn. But we have challenges, ideas, and innovations that need to be shared now—not in spite of how new we are to the profession, but because of it.
I also believe that new educators are particularly tuned in to the pressing concerns of equity in our schools. We have a keen sense of social justice, and new teachers in particular seem ready to break down the institutions that reinforce inequity among teachers and students in our schools.”
What are you hoping to gain from being a delegate at the RA?
“I hope I will learn about the experiences of teachers across the country who are fighting for their profession, their schools, and their students. It is very easy to stay focused on the local situation and the day-to-day realities of where I live but in order to make our union stronger, we need to also look at the challenges and triumphs of those in other places.
This past October I lost my mom, a 33-year veteran educator, to colon cancer. Through a year of chemotherapy and treatments she continued teaching 4th grade in Baltimore County and advocating for her students and colleagues all the way up to a month before she passed away.
My work in my classroom and in our union is how I keep the legacy of my mom alive each and every day.”