What I will never forget about the State of the Union

So, yes, I was in the House gallery to hear Donald Trump’s surreal State of the Union address. But no, it was certainly not by his invitation. I was invited by the most powerful woman in the United States of America, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who single-handedly stopped the most powerful man in the United States of America, Donald Trump, from prolonging a cruel and dangerous government shutdown.

I sat in the gallery and watched one side of the room stand and applaud like robots at almost every sentence Donald Trump uttered, no matter how bizarre or self-serving. I waited to hear anything on education, especially with state after state, from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona and North Carolina, and districts like Los Angeles, where educators were massing in the streets along with parents, advocates and community allies to demand that educators be listened to and that our students be valued.

Then it came. His plan for education. With a nod to Betsy DeVos he said, “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.”

One side rose on cue to applaud. One side sat silent. He gave one sentence. Nothing on funding.  Nothing on protecting students from discrimination. Nothing on support for health or social-emotional learning or the arts or STEM or making it affordable for a teacher to pay off a student loan…

One sentence. And a nod to Betsy DeVos.

After the address, we were invited back to the Speaker’s reception room where she sat with us and spoke with us – educators, unionists, doctors, transgender soldiers, immigrants, victims of gun violence… and she just talked about how what she was seeing was different from any other administration. That what we had just heard about immigrants and women’s health and about how “wasting time” looking into the accusations of corruption within this administration would jeopardize world peace … that a nod to Betsy DeVos, that all this was surreal.

So, what was real? Evelyn. Evelyn Fabito was real. I had an empty glass and I was looking to put it down. One of the servers holding a tray and moving amongst the invited saw me and came up to me with a smile. I put my glass on her tray. She said, “Lily! I’m so happy to meet you!”

I felt bad that I didn’t recognize her. She seemed to know me. She continued, “I’m not going to the Representative Assembly this year, but I really want to go next year.”

Evelyn, the server, is a teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She’s one of our members. She was picking up empty plates and glasses in the Speaker’s reception room late into the night.

I gave her a hug. I said, “So, this is your second job?” She said, “No. This is my third. I have another on weekends.”

I hope I didn’t get her in trouble, but I asked to take her picture. I asked if I could tell her story in my blog. She was happy and said yes.

And she said, “I’ve been in the union since I started teaching. I love our union. And I see the people here. And I see you in this room. And I just have a feeling that something big is happening. Something good.”

I sat in the gallery and listened to a president and felt only despair. I hugged a teacher picking up dirty dishes and was renewed with hope. 

We must be the keepers of hope. And Evelyn and millions like her are already smiling that something big is happening.



25 Responses to “What I will never forget about the State of the Union”

  1. Dr. ANITA Mancini

    As a very proud retired elementary school teacher, I was horrified to hear 45 mention “school choice” at the State of the Union. I pledge to do everything in my power to support PUBLIC school , now and for ever.

  2. Rochelle Hoek

    Hi Lily! I am a 1st grade teacher in Vancouver, WA. I’ve taught 22 years. It is a huge part of who I am, not ever a “job.” I have always taught at a high risk, high ELL, “hard” school. I wanted to share a couple things I really think we could ALL need your help with to save teachers and kids! First, I have over $180,000 STILL in student loans. They have quadrupled. As a single mom, I couldn’t afford to pay them on a teacher’s salary. Now, the stress from them causes emotional and physical issues every day. Instead of just helping new teachers, PLEASE help those of us who STILL have these loans even after YEARS of dedication to kids and our profession. PLEASE! I, and many of my friends (unless they were lucky enough to have other support paying for education), still have these astronomical loans! We fall through every single crack for forgiveness. WE need your help in order to keep qualified, veteran teachers. By the way, I am highly qualified with a BA in Human Dvlp., a M.Ed, National Board Certified in Reading, Reading end., & ECE end. Secondly, KGW news in Portland (our bordering city in Or), has been doing a segment on Classrooms in Crisis. It has been flooded with pleas for help from teachers. So, they have extended the segment. I ask you to view it and comment. I know you know this, but, please…we ARE in crisis. Our kids can not handle what is happening in their lives. Parents are uninvolved or a mess themselves, kids are living in poverty, drug situations, neglect, effects of malnutrition, etc… – not to mention those who live in constant fear of deportation. We have kids with extreme behavior issues and mental illness and we are expected to just “handle it” every day. At the same time, we are trying to teach EVERYTHING 110% and we better do it all perfectly and, by the way, take children who are far below grade level and get them to grade level or above in everything. We are told their home lives don’t count. We have a nurse who comes a couple times a week and spends the entire day in her office – not even interacting with kids. We have ONE counselor who can’t handle the issues. We (teachers) are abused by parents, kids and even admin. It’s horrible and it’s unacceptable for all. Our kids can not learn in this environment. I, and other teachers, certainly should not be carrying over $100,000 loans to put up with all this! I LOVE teaching. I cry and loose sleep daily for my kids and more for what I see as a dim future and almost impossible struggle with life and school in their futures. Last year was the first time ever I have seriously considered quitting my profession and it breaks my heart into pieces. Teachers have the least amount of rights out of anyone in the entire school or district. We have no say in anything but are expected to take the brunt of all of it. I have SO many other issues I’d love to discuss (for example aides and everyone else being considered a “teacher.” They are support and the teacher needs to have more say/power if we hold the responsibility) But, these are URGENT. Please help. I know it’s almost impossible with Trump and DeVoss. But, please, please don’t give up. PLEASE HELP with loan forgiveness. No one else is even addressing that. I know you are vigilant in trying to get more emotional support and safety. Thank you for what you do.

    • Candace A. Smith

      Oh my goodness, Rochelle, your words of concern nearly mirror mine beseeching our NH town to support the critical needs of our students. Our School Board was unaware of the serious needs because those who know fear for job reprisal or negative comments by those who don’t want our taxes to rise much more. Our School Board is wonderful, voicing their wish to help me find funding in grants and such for much needed social/emotional professional assistance to our student population of K-8. As a country, we don’t do justice to equalize education in all school districts. Though many will become disgruntled at my next comment it is a better way than what we have now to provide needed services and rigorous curriculum with differentiation across the nation. Why can’t we offer the same cost per student and the needed social/emotional support universally to all students in our United States? Why can’t we generate an educational budget that allows all teachers to earn the same money, with the appropriate steps put into place, and have the same equipment for all schools? IB schools have a curriculum guideline schools use to plan their five units of study for the year thus ensuring freedom to develp a rigorous curriculum within a well developed infrastructure so students and teachers are challenged, and differentiation is expected so students can learn the same subject matter at their own respective abiity levels. It is far easier to plan these units including all of our learners than to try “finding” materials and skill levels that may include diverse learners. At any rate, thank you for afforfding a public forum to express our thoughts.

  3. Jan Emerson

    Thank you, Lily and Evelyn. This little Post renewed my hope. I am a retired teacher, and severely concerned about Betsy Devos and her plans for public education. Thank you for all you do and I will keep sending good thoughts your way. Keep up the good work!

  4. Cindy Cummings Wheeler

    Thank you for this story. God bless Evelyn Fabito! I was a local association president for 8 years and have now been retired for almost 16 years. I also saw so many of our teachers working a second and third job to be able to support themselves and their family. Many of the young teachers left after a few years for better paying, less stressful jobs (Out of our seven grandchildren who have graduated or are still in college, sadly none of them wants to be a teacher even though we have four teachers in the family),
    I was then and am still frustrated and angry by the wealthy Republican establishment who is opposed to birth control but does not want to support or educate those children beyond the womb.
    Keep fighting the good fight, Lily!

  5. Martha J Brennan

    A beautiful story!

  6. Joseph Yeskewicz

    Now, where is the NEA regarding the emergence of Elizabeth Warren as a candidate for POTUS? If one reads the transcript of her announcement speech fron Lawrence, Mass, and the issues highlighted therein, her ideas and comments make sense.

  7. Ronnie Belasco

    Thank you for sharing your moment and highlighting Evelyn Fabito. Indeed she is REAL and a testament to the dedication of the education community. You need to invite her to NEA as a special guest this year!

  8. Elaine Miller

    speaker Pelosi has shown her savvy regarding the importance of public education & hence you as a spokesperson for all of us. Glad you were there. Trump’speech Exhibits complete blindness regarding the primary role that public education plays in making America a world leader and his lack of support is a precursor to our gradual decline.

  9. Blake West

    Dear Lily, This was a beautiful story that conveys the bitter disconnect between the President, the Republican Party of Trump, McConnell, etc. and real Americans, teachers, laborers, elderly, children, and even those who risked their very lives to be true citizens regardless of what paperwork might show. The shameless hypocrisy of the President’s smug privilege and Republican’s ongoing mission to elevate racist, sexist, elitist ideas brings deep pain to all who struggle against their machine… and yet the simplicity of a teacher with three jobs who was excited to meet YOU because you are the president of her Union conveys tremendous hope. I am so glad you were with Speaker Pelosi that night and that you are with our members each and every day wherever you go.

  10. Mary M Hunsicker


  11. virginia fuller

    Lily, I knew you were the best now I know it even more.
    I am retried after 38 years teaching. I am a life member of NEA and MTA.
    As we all know teachers have to have a second and third job. I am not sure what I can do but will as I always do talk to my representatives and senators.
    Keep up the fight and I will on my end.

  12. Dr. Lois D. Wasserman

    I wish it was true. I have no hope. I was forced to retire from a job in the public sector due to age and handicap. I was 68. I am 83 and living in poverty since 1972. In 1972, I earned a doctorate in History with a dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent philosophy and strategy. Since 1972, I earned adjunct faculty salaries. Because of racial preference, my pale skin told the interviewer to find a job elsewhere as he needed to hire a
    Black person. Dr. King told us all that he wanted his children to be judged on the basis of their qualifications, not on their skin color. I wish it were true; it is not. I was judged on the white skin and yelled at by so-called interviewers for writing about a Black leader with my white skin. This happened several times. I had to retrain to earn a living, but the federal government did not help me when it passed a law if you work in the private and public sectors, you lose two-thirds of your Social Security. Thus, I lost by not being hired full time in a college and then by paying for the fourth degree so that I could earn a living. It did not happen. Our political leaders did nothing. Some Interns were very rude to me.”Case closed.”-an intern told me. Another would not take any information from me and the democracy where I taught told me that we will not help you. Title VII should be modified -no preference–hire me because I am a human being who needs to earn a living. Let me add, do not discriminate against the men and women that had the Civil Rights Act passed. How about justice for all?
    Lois D. Wasserman, Ph.D., retired adjunct professor,Northeastern University, Boston University, Bentley College,and more.

  13. Anita Weikel

    Retired public school teacher of 40 years says “You just can’t fix stupid!” Holding my breath and hoping that our country can endure/survive the next 22 months! Thank you so much for your dedication to the children of this nation who have only one choice and to the teachers who endure absurd conditions, incredible requirements, and inadequate pay, to educate, care for and save the most vulnerable children of our nation. Where are our priorities? One of my favorite pictures of my oldest son, now 50, is one taken by the VEA Journal when he was about 5 yrs. old, standing beside our Ford Pinto, holding a bundle of brochures in one hand and shaking his fist above his head, out helping me spread the word, through the campaign efforts of our local education association, of the need for better pay and conditions in our local schools! Sadly, things have not gotten better in so many areas, yet we still have dedicated angels who go there and do their best every day. How AMAZING! Thank you, again!

  14. Stephanie Foy

    Lily, thanks for this blog post. What an incredibly ironic experience you had last week after sitting through that awful speech. Thanks for your continued energy in support of my colleagues in the classrooms of this country. From Henry’s grandmother, the little boy in the car on an NEA tour you picked up a few months back, and a proud NEA TABCO-R member from Maryland. Your grandmother time will be here before you know it! Meanwhile keep up the fight for public education.

  15. Claire

    Lily, my husband was a teacher for over thirty years and always had a second job. I did not care for some of your comments. He worked in the food service industry also and made good money. You shouldn’t look down upon these people. They have an important job at these receptions. Mr Trump is your president and the US citizens should treat him with respect. To do otherwise is not a good lesson for our younger people

    • Lynn Selby

      I totally agree with Claire!
      NEA does NOT know what the parents of our students face each day.
      NEA does not ask the teachers “down in the trenches” with the children.
      The administration of NEA just follow the Democratic Party ideas without REALLY asking teachers how it will affect the teachers and students.

    • Sandra

      Respect has to be earned, not given freely just because of the title of the person. Our students respect us because we respect them by treating them humanely with love and understanding.
      It is wrong to say that we should respect someone who does not respect the people of the United States just because of his title. He has not earned my respect. Furthermore, I do not care to be respected by someone who does not even respect himself.

  16. Mary Alice Braverman

    Thank you Lilly . I am a Los Angeles teacher. I heard you speak on our behalf just last month (feels like 6 months). Thank you for attending the SOTU. I listened and was appalled at both what was and wasn’t said. God bless you, Evelyn Fabito and Ms. Pelosi. In faith and solidarity, Mary Braverman, UTLA member

  17. Marlene Koerner

    I am so proud to be a member of the NEA, albeit the Retired part.

  18. Margaret McGough

    Evelyn Fabito has renewed my hope that a better tomorrow is coming. Nancy Pelosi and Lily Eckstein also are giving me hope. Thank you.

  19. David Esler

    Dear Lily —

    I was quite moved by your account of meeting Evelyn Fabito at Speaker Pelosi’s SOTU after-party. I am the son and grandson of school teachers and have come to believe that one of the greatest achievements of this country is universal public education. (And my grandmother — I am proud to say — among many other things, was a suffragette.) Sadly, today, public education is in the crosshairs of the Republicans because their greatest fear is an educated electorate — because educated people are able to figure things out, like voter suppression and other mechanisms to prevent the the furtherance of democracy. Unlike the poser in the White House, teachers tell the truth and set positive examples for young people. Teachers are among my heros, which is why I have made the protagonist of a novel I am writing a teacher. Thank you for the work you and your colleagues are doing.

    — David Esler
    Berkeley, CA

  20. Debbie Fritts-Boyce

    The VP looked as though he was on a heavy drug.

  21. John Fitzgerald

    At age 75, a liberal white male, with sisters, daughters and granddaughters, I am still amazed at the pervasive misogyny that dominates our society. Although it, like overt racism, has diminished somewhat in intensity over the decades, it remains a powerful force.
    One of its consequences is the devaluation of the teaching profession.
    The failure to enact an Equal Rights Amendment, the provision of tax exemptions to male-dominated churches which discriminate against women, the failure to include women in health studies, the cult of guns, the unequal pay for equal work, the sexual abuse and exploitation and the like are just some of the ugly consequences of institutional misogyny. Unless and until misogyny is more forcefully challenged, unless the majority of white women refuse to vote for Trump and the GOP, these conditions will continue.
    So, good for Pelosi, Warren, Eskelsen, Klobuchar, Harris and all the other women standing up to the GOP and their guns and gofers like DeVos. Someday a rough equality may arrive. Expecting Justice in my lifetime is beyond realistic but is a worthy goal for you and my granddaughters.
    Keep it going!

  22. Jan Beverly

    Dear Lily,

    As a retired member of NEA, I will continue to support the public schools of this country that taught me and the majority of the intelligent, problem solving, literate people I’ve met in my lifetime. Parochial and private schools are an important part of our educational system, but overwhelming majority of the children who are our future are receiving excellent educations in public schools. These schools need to be funded fully, without having tax dollars being to “choice schools”.


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