NEA Representative Assembly 2016: New Recruits

uncle-stocks-moreNational Education Association executive director John Stocks delivered his annual remarks at this morning’s session. The overarching theme was attracting new teachers to the union and listening to the ones who are already involved.

NEA’s demographics are worrisome, and Stocks is committed to do something about it. “We must become relevant to this new generation,” he said.

So he and NEA’s elected leaders have developed the New Educators Campaign, which is a project for union representatives to meet personally with each one of the 173,000 new education employees Stocks said would be hired by America’s school districts this fall.

The California Teachers Association is so on board with this idea they got the state legislature to move a bill that forces new school employees to attend their time-share pitch – I mean, “orientation and informational programs.”

Those affiliates with less pliant lawmakers will have to do it the hard way, and Stocks had suggestions for how to perform the task. “We must listen,” he said.

The union must approach younger teachers “not telling them what they need, but asking them what they need.”

Stocks explained the consequences of failure. “If we don’t define our union for these new educators, someone else will,” he said.

This is all sound advice and it’s hard to criticize Stocks for attacking a long-term problem in the short-term world of NEA. But the sticking point – as it was with last year’s commitment to battling institutional racism – is sacrifice. What are current teacher union leaders willing to give up in order to appeal to the next generation and carry NEA and AFT into the future?

Suppose NEA listens, and new teachers say the constant battling with charter schools or Teach for America is counterproductive? Suppose they aren’t interested in preserving the single salary schedule? Suppose they think NEA national headquarters is top-heavy and could do with a smaller staff, smaller budget and leaner salaries and benefits? Suppose they think their executive director isn’t representative of their generation?

Are we really to think that NEA would start instituting any of that?

Every younger generation wants the same thing of the older generation: to get out of the way. “Change has to start with us,” Stocks said to the delegates, but he’s wrong. The change has started. We can either support it, or get run over by it.