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Lily Eskelsen's picture

I travel a lot these days meeting with teachers and support staff and principals and parents and the press and anyone anywhere who wants to join hands and make good things happen for kids. I was on my way to Wichita to speak at a conference and the nice man in the middle seat started a nice conversation.

It always starts out nice.

“So, is Wichita home?” he nicely asks.

“No, I’m speaking at a teacher’s conference.”

“So, you a teacher?” he nicely asks.

“Yes, I’m a 6th grade teacher from Utah who works with the National Education Association. Kansas-NEA invited me to come talk about what we’re doing for our kids in the poorest neighborhoods and how we’re trying to recruit the best, most talented, most diversely-experienced teachers and support staff to work in their schools, and…”

(Click on image to see a video from Kansas NEA)

“NEA? I’ve heard about you guys,” he says not so nice.

“Great!” (I’m being sarcastic. His voice did not reflect “great”.) “Then you must know what their president, Blake West, is doing to make sure our teachers are well-trained, and the president before him, Christy Levings, is amazing! She’s a leader in the movement for National Board Certification so teachers have a chance to really show how good they are. You have some the premiere leaders in teacher quality in the country right here in your own state. You must be very proud.”

He stares at me.

“That’s not the reputation NEA has here. You guys protect teachers,” he says.

“Who do you think we protect them from?”

“Well, I mean, you protect them. It’s not a good reputation.”

I decide to pin him down. “Well reputations are sometimes earned and sometimes somebody is manipulating you to give someone a good or a bad reputation they haven’t earned. Can you tell me one thing you’ve personally heard where you thought, ‘NEA did something bad for kids; NEA was wrong when they did that’?”

He hesitates. “Well.” “Um.” “Well, no, I can’t exactly point to anything in particular where I thought you guys did something wrong. It’s just, you know, your reputation.”

“It’s funny that the press doesn’t report that your Kansas-NEA leaders here are some of the top people in the country protecting high quality standards for teachers. I wonder why that is?”

“Well, I guess mostly we get the bad news. I mean everybody knows that public schools aren’t very good. Thank goodness the school my kids go to is great. But it’s the exception.”

“You’re right about getting all the bad news. If there’s a picket sign or a kid brings a gun to school, the press always shows up. So public schools and their teachers and the NEA tend to get a bad reputation, even when the reality is that your kids’ school isn’t the exception – it’s the rule. But your kids’ school isn’t on the news because there was no bad news there.

Blake and Christy are fantastic, dedicated teachers leading the movement for quality standards for all teachers, but that’s not news, because nobody’s holding a picket sign.”

“So you’re saying everything’s just great.”

“Nope. I’m saying we’re only hearing about what’s not great and good people, like yourself, think they’re getting the whole story. When you don’t have the whole story, you can’t see what’s working and what needs to be fixed. You get politicians who start doing stupid stuff to fix things that aren’t broken and you don’t fix the things that are. You actually hurt the students you were trying to help. And you give people, like teachers, bad reputations and see them as the problem when in reality they’re the people who know what they’re talking about. They can find the best solutions but politicians never ask them.”school

“Yeah. I guess that makes sense. Ok. Maybe the NEA isn’t as bad as its reputation. Hey, you guys should do something to fix that.”

“Well, we have a plan. We’re thinking of buying a national cable news station and 90% of the radio stations and maybe the Wall Street Journal and controlling the media so folks will only hear the good stuff about us. But while we raise the money for that, we thought we’d just start talking to nice people in the middle seat.”

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you. I’m actually thinking of becoming a teacher when I retire. Maybe I’ll even join the Kansas-NEA.”

Well now. Wouldn’t that would be nice.

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