Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cumberland County Legislative Dinner

April 13th

I'm writing to you from Cumberland County, New Jersey. OK, I thought I was from a nice green suburb, but this is real country living! I mean, they have endless fields with cows grazing. It's beautiful. I should come more often.

What brought me here tonight was my colleague, Shirley Santos, the Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. She does awesome work with bilingual education and the educational association. She invited me to the Cumberland County Legislative Dinner.

Well, ladies and gentlemen - educators are standing up to be counted. At an event where typically there are 100-150 people in attendance, there were 450 teachers! The energy in the room was powerful as each and every teacher realized that it is up to us to narrate the story for the public about a world we know. Marie Bilik, our New Jersey Education Association Secretary/Treasurer, was moving in her commitment to teachers and learning in our state. Her voice was filled with emotion and knowledge.

Senator Sweeney was there and was willing to engage in conversation and debate. It did get heated, but it didn't get ugly. Folks asked the Senator why he was not supporting teachers in terms of our pensions. He said that he was worried that there wouldn't be enough money in the pension without reform and that he was in fact, trying to protect our pensions.

That didn't fly with the crowd, but it was gratifying to see real questions being asked and answered. 450 teachers in a room speaking with one heart and one mind is extraordinarily powerful.

The one benefit of this terrible fiscal crisis is that it is uniting teachers. We are emerging from our classrooms to see that we are working for the same goals - professional treatment for the professionals that work with children every day.

I looked around the room and saw educators of every description and age. Everyone looked very focused about our current issues. We are stronger than ever and we will prevail. As the NJ Teacher of the Year, it is my job to represent my colleagues in the imperfect way any one voice can.

As I was leaving, a teacher stopped me to thank me for the work I have been doing, "it means so much to me, to all of us," she said, her eyes locked into mine.

I thanked her and grabbed the floral arrangement that my table mates at table # 1 had generously given me. Each flower was open, perfect, fragrant.

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