When I first assumed office as OEA Vice President in 2015, I reflected that fall would be the first since I was in Pre-School (which I did twice) that I would not be returning to school. Now, six years later, as my term of office as OEA President, expires, I am excited at the prospect of returning to my teaching role in the fall of 2021. It is not lost on me, however, that the world of education to which I am returning is not the same as the one I left. So much has happened since 2015, and I am so proud of OEA members and the role we have played in increasing funding for education, addressing social and emotional learning, advocating for inclusive practices for all students, and protecting the safety of members’ working and students’ learning conditions.
Through our work on disrupted learning and eventually the Student Success Act, as a union we have accomplished so much over the past six years. I started teaching in 1990 and have been involved in OEA-supported school funding campaigns my entire career. In 2019, I was heartened to see that it looked like we were finally going to have a system that had adequate funding, and though “adequate” isn’t a word I would use to describe the kind of funding our students truly need to be successful, $1 billion per year dedicated to PK-12 education was a good start. We were in the midst of advocating for similar investments in higher education when the pandemic hit, and everything ground to something of a halt. Much of the final two years of my term of office has been spent working to ensure OEA members had the tools to do their jobs safely and students had the ability to learn in a safe environment. While this work has been rewarding, I don’t think any of us thought this would be the next step after the Student Success Act.
"I am strengthened every day when I hear of the amazing work educators do across the state of Oregon, and though I am proud of all we’ve accomplished, there is so much that is still unfinished."
The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others over the past year accelerated the work OEA had already been doing on racial and social justice. OEA has leaned into this work and strives to make a safe learning environment for all our students.
I am strengthened every day when I hear of the amazing work educators do across the state of Oregon, and though I am proud of all we’ve accomplished, there is so much that is still unfinished. We had only scratched the surface on addressing the issues of social and emotional learning before the pandemic hit, and the pandemic has only served to exacerbate the issue. The Student Success Act dollars have yet to be fully realized, but what we know is the need for school funding remains critical. We continue to make strides in social and racial justice, but the road behind us is minute when compared to the road ahead of us.
We are at a critical juncture in OEA. Outside forces continue to assail educators from all sides, but the greatest danger I see to our collective power as I prepare to resume my teaching career comes from within. On most issues surrounding education, OEA has been a strong, united front. Over the past months, the decisions surrounding whether to return to in-person instruction has divided our membership and caused a number of rifts. As I depart, I want to remind us all that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. We are truly stronger together than apart.