Fall is typically a time of new beginnings for educators as students return to our schools, filling hallways, cafeterias, busses and classrooms with energy. In August, I saw that energy firsthand visiting schools prepping for students arriving and schools where students were already back in session. As OEA Vice President Enrique Farrera and I met with members across the state, we heard again and again the hopes that this year would be a more “normal” year after 18 months of pandemic disruption. But one of the key lessons I have learned from the pandemic is to expect the unexpected. This fall has become a different “normal” than we thought it would be in early August. I am deeply proud of the enormous work OEA members do every day to support students and colleagues during this second year of the pandemic.
As we learn to live with COVID, this fall has new elements to it: from kindergarten to community colleges, virtual learning has become embedded as a teaching and learning mechanism. Keeping our students, educators and their families safe means adopting multiple measures to stop the spread and mutation of the virus. As requirements from the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Health Authority and the Governor’s office change our work, the strength of our union negotiations is key. OEA member engagement in negotiating contract language ensures that local decisions are made with educator input. Engaging with elected officials, from the school board to the Senate, is equally important. Decisions made in Salem and D.C. impact our working conditions every day.
THIS FALL HAS BECOME A DIFFERENT “NORMAL” THAN WE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE IN EARLY AUGUST. I AM DEEPLY PROUD OF THE ENORMOUS WORK OEA MEMBERS DO EVERY DAY TO SUPPORT STUDENTS AND COLLEAGUES DURING THIS SECOND YEAR OF THE PANDEMIC.
Our work as a union does not stop with contract language. Attacks on individual educators and curriculum have unnecessarily complicated an already complex job. Teaching truth and building schools based on equity, as difficult as it can feel, is imperative. The OEA Board of Directors, working with OEA staff and our Committee on Racial Equity have developed a support system for any member who is attacked for implementing the equity standards ODE and the State Board of Education have adopted. If this happens to you, email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with OEA support.
This fall, most importantly, remember that as a member of our union, you are not alone. We stand together for our students and communities. We stand together for you.