Link to the article/page NEA made for the trip (with me as the token teacher activist): http://www.educationvotes.nea.org/2011/11/02/video-nea-members-talk-school-modernization-with-president-obama/
NEA representatives in front of the White House prior to the Nov. 1, 2001 meeting on the American Jobs Act.
Vice President Joe Biden addressing the audience.
President Barack Obama
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and David Plough during the West Wing conference call.
Me with the NEA President in front of the West Wing.
The group photo with VP Biden on his way out of the office.
President Obama exiting the meeting.
Me with the President speaking behind me.
The White House as it looked as we headed back to the hotel.
Write-up for CSEA newsletter:
I had a very unexpected message when I got home from parent-teacher conferences in late October. The message was from Andy Linebaugh at the NEA offices in Washington D.C., and he was inviting me to go to the White House for a meeting with President Obama. It was too late to call him back that evening, so I had to wait until the next day to get more information. I was being invited because of a short paragraph I had written at the Education Votes website in response to an NEA e-mail request asking teachers to describe how budget cuts were affecting their schools.
This is what I wrote:
“My school has been lucky compared to many in these times of cuts. We didn’t have to lay off nearly as many teachers as some schools. But, year after year we come to work in 90+ temps with packed classrooms and no AC. We can’t pass a bond issue for many reasons—public education’s battered reputation and “we-can’t-take-one-more-request-for-money” battered voters are two of the big ones. I have classes of 36 and 37 teenagers packed into desks that are falling apart, using textbooks older than they are. Every day, students ask for food, paper, pencils, fundraiser purchases, even clothes, let alone the graphing calculators we want them to have to keep up with technological advances in education. Our carpet is threadbare, stained, and approaching 40 years old, but can’t be replaced because there is an asbestos issue we can’t afford to address. New mandates come from the government every year, but never with any funding for the training and infrastructure required to implement. We’re supposed to be a magic black box that produces perfect widgets out of students with nothing. I wish we could have some of the joy of Finnish education; I wish I could feel that people of America believed in the value of free quality education for all. That was a principle I was raised on and firmly believe in, but I feel it is a value that is being sorely eroded.”
I felt I shouldn’t pass up a rare opportunity like this one, so I accepted the offer and the following Monday I was flying to Washington D.C. All the business happened on Tuesday. I made my way a block from my hotel to the NEA offices where I was warmly welcomed. It turned out, I was the only classroom teacher attending – the ten others representing NEA and teachers were the NEA President, a member of his staff, and 8 representatives from various states that are association Presidents and Vice Presidents at the state level. We attended a briefing, and then were interviewed and video-taped individually about school conditions to be used in press releases or provided to the state and local associations to use as needed. We went to the White House in the afternoon. The meeting was in the East Room and included some other organizations like the NAACP in addition to NEA for a total of about 120 guests. Three cabinet members and the Reverend Al Sharpton were in attendance. There were four speakers including Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama. The topic of discussion was the American Jobs Act and the need to create and preserve public sector jobs and infrastructure. The President did take questions and comments from the audience and committed to continue fighting for school funding. He said that the most important thing educators and students can do to try to advocate for school funding and infrastructure is to get their stories out in the local press as much as possible. Much of the public does not really understand how budget cuts are affecting what happens in the classroom and the state of repair of schools and the only way they will learn is if people in the schools tell them and show them.
After the President left, the NEA group was quickly ushered to the West Wing to attend a conference call with David Plough (President Obama’s campaign manager and political strategist) and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and a variety of NEA members from around the country who wished to learn about the meeting we had just attended or express what is happening in their schools. When the call concluded, we left the White House and each gave short video synopses of our experiences to the NEA press crew.
While we hope that the meeting will make some positive difference that all of us will benefit from, the experience was also very exciting and fun. We all had opportunities to get pictures of the President and Vice President, some shook hands with one or both of them, and we had a group photo with the Vice President as he was leaving the West Wing on his way home. We were made to feel quite welcome at the White House. I put some of my trip pictures on my blog at http://masooma.blogspot.com/2011/11/white-house-trip.html , which also includes a link to an article with pictures and video that NEA wrote up about the event. They decided to make the stories with me the focus of the event because I was the classroom teacher as opposed to a state officer. I tried to represent us all well and am very thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.