January 2014

Advocating for Teachers

Building Representatives—There When You Need Them

You have questions about your contract, or time off, or anything else related to your job, but where do you turn for advice? Your Association Building Representative, of course.

Every school in the state has at least one Building Representative—a vital "go-to person" for teachers. Teachers should contact Building Reps when they need information about their jobs, local contacts, CEA, NEA programs and services. Building Reps wear many hats, including contract enforcer, organizer, communicator, spokesperson, problem-solver, and, most important, teacher advocate.

Lauren Thompson, a reading specialist at the Clintonville Elementary School in North Haven, has been teaching for six years and decided she wanted to become a Building Representative.

"I like being able to help my colleagues through issues and challenges and make sure they have an advocate who ensures that their rights are protected," said Thompson.

Thompson and two dozen of her colleagues from across the state participated in a Summer Leadership Workshop called "Action Response Team: Today's Building Rep," where they learned about important roles and duties. UniServ Reps Gloria Dimon and Marty Deren trained the teachers, many of them first-time Building Reps, on a variety of issues important to local association and individual Building Rep success, including grievance processing, laws that affect teachers, collective bargaining, organizing, and more.

After completing the workshop, Thompson said she was more comfortable in her new role. "Gloria and Marty covered everything I need to know to do my job and help my colleagues. I have a better understanding of what the job entails, and now I am more prepared to handle any situation and to address the needs of my colleagues," she said.

Leonille Kadambaya, a Groton special education teacher for 15 years and a first-year Building Rep, agreed.

"I have been doing the job without training," she said. "Now it's very clear. I have policies and handouts, so I understand my role and can better assist my colleagues."

Michael Noonan, a North Stonington elementary music teacher and local association co-president, noted that you don't have to be a Building Rep to attend the session.

"It's my first time taking this workshop, and I learned many things, including things I should have known but didn't," he explained, adding that the knowledge he gained has made him a better advocate for his colleagues.

"The layout of the session and the handbook are extremely useful," he said, "and the presentation is both informative and entertaining. New or experienced Building Reps always learn something at the workshop, even by sharing stories with other colleagues. It's an especially good session, and I highly recommend it."

Getting involved

Many educators have been teaching for decades without getting involved in their local associations. But times have changed, and teachers want a voice at the table.

"Changes are being driven by politicians making decisions for political reasons and not for the good of education," said Ted Goerner, a West Hartford science teacher.

Goerner, who has been teaching for 21 years, got involved recently and became a local Building Rep because of all the challenges and concern over the new teacher evaluation implementation. "Politics and laws affect us as teachers. We can't get complacent. We need to be involved in decisions that affect us and our students," he said.

Lauren Varga, a first-grade Killingworth Elementary School teacher and local association co-president, said getting involved "isn't as scary as I thought."

She continued, "I wanted to get involved and advocate for teachers. I am learning and getting to know a lot of great people and providing them with support and assistance as they need it."

New Building Rep Marina Volkova, a language arts teacher at Adams Middle School in Guilford, echoed that sentiment.

"I never got involved in CEA or my local association, but now that I am, I encourage others to do it."

She attended Summer Leadership with three other new teachers from Guilford and plans to use her new training to spur others to get involved.

"It's not all union stuff but great professional development programs. Teachers need to know about all the opportunities and the great networking possibilities where they can hear about issues and teacher challenges in other schools and how they are handling them."

Every month, Building Reps receive the CEA Union Association Conntact Report via email.

The Conntact keeps Building Reps informed and their colleagues up to date on news, events, lesson plans, workshops and seminars, and contests. There are also monthly drawings and chances to win prizes. Building Reps are urged to post Conntact stories on the bulletin boards in their teachers' lounges.

If you are a Building Rep and don't receive the Conntact, email Nancya@cea.org.

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