We all know that each person has their own story of how they have gotten to this exact moment in their life. I would like to share my story so that you can understand why people, passion, and empowerment are so important to me. And why I am running for an elected position in my professional organization- the National Education Association.
As a child growing up in poverty in WV, I was influenced by the people in my life who instilled in me a passion for education, and empowered me to be the leader I am today. Although my father did not graduate from high school, he was an intelligent man with many talents. However, he struggled to keep a job. My mother had many health issues and tried to work in between surgeries and hospital stays. These challenges meant that from an early age many responsibilities — like taking care of my younger sister, my mom, and our home — fell on my shoulders.
My Dad was very strict with me when it came to my grades and work ethic. He understood that the only way I would break the cycle of poverty in my family, was for me to make my education a priority and to be the first to attend college. Although I loved learning and still do, school was not easy for me. There wasn’t always time for me to practice my skills, nor was there anyone at home to help me. I was a child caught in a grown up world. This affected my relationships with my peers who bullied me because I wore hand-me-down clothing, was very mature for my age, and let’s face it, my name alone made me a target for many taunts.
Still, I was lucky to have grown-ups who made me feel valued and loved in school. Educators like you. Educators who welcomed me every day with a smile on the bus and would stop the bus when bullies would try to gang up on me. Educators in the cafeteria who made sure I had plenty of food on my tray since they knew my family struggled at times to have much for dinner. Educators who cared enough to ensure our school was safe and clean and that we were never short of hugs. And it was educators who taught me that learning is about much more than memorizing facts in a book. Educators like you…people who cared and had high expectations for me as my father did, who helped me reach my potential.
I also have been fortunate throughout my career to have many mentors, who have empowered me to lead in many roles. Empowerment begins with a leader who realizes she cannot lead alone. Strength relies on her collective knowledge and shared responsibility with the group she represents. However, the most important aspect of empowerment is to help others discover the passion and ability they have within. To help them recognize they have an indispensable role to play in building a better future. Unless we tap into that fire that burns in all educators, new and seasoned, we can not build capacity within our organization, no matter how much we try.
Like so many of you, I thrive by empowering others and there is no greater passion for me than education. I have been a leader in our association since 2004. Yet my many accomplishments and responsibilities do not define who I am or what really makes me a great leader. What I believe sets me apart is that at my core, I understand that it really is the people who empower us to unleash our passion that make the real difference. This is why I am running for NEA Director, and I hope that my colleagues will choose me to represent them so that together we can help educators — and ultimately students – overcome their challenges and become the leaders our country needs them to be.