No Slowing Down: Fighting the good fight never gets old for retired educator
As attacks on collective bargaining heat up nationwide, a generation works hard to sustain hard-won gains.
By Brenda Álvarez
CHICAGO—Most retirees look forward to play time with grandchildren or good-old fashioned R & R on white sandy beaches and plush green golf courses. But the career of most retired public school teachers does not end with those final marks in well-worn grade books. It often continues in Priority Schools.
“We’re heavily involved,” said Barbara Matteson, NEA-Retired president. “We go back into the classroom to help tutor and mentor students, as well as substitute classes, and we work on teams to help develop programs for struggling schools—we bring experience and knowledge to the table.”
And NEA retired members are fired up about the hostile climate surrounding the labor movement. Often with the ability to build their own schedules for a change, retired members are picking up pickets and phones to call attention to the misguided attacks on public employees.
“We worked hard for the improvements that we bargained for, such as planning time, smaller class sizes and even maternity leave,” Matteson added. “It’s distressful to see state governments try to take those benefits away. We take it personally.”
Retirees know what it takes to bring about positive change to student learning. Take Wisconsinite Marlene Ott, a 45-year high school English veteran who retired from the South Milwaukee School District three years ago.
“When I was chief negotiator for my district we operated under consensus bargaining. We had a very collaborative relationship. When we wanted to change the curriculum, we talked about it and looked at student data to make informed decisions,” said Ott.
Ott continued: “Now, it just breaks my heart to see Governor Walker’s tactics and to see administrators do things arbitrarily without event talking to teachers—it feels like a knife to the back.”
Matteson will end her term as NEA-Retired president come August 31. Picking up where she leaves off will be Tom Curran, a 35 year veteran, who taught seventh and eighth grades in Westbrook, Maine.
As incoming president, Curran will encourage retirees to go back into the community and get involved in the education reform debate.
“As bad as the demands are with testing, being labeled as the ‘bad guy’ in the media or having others know more than me is bothersome,” said Curran, referring to those who have never stepped foot inside a classroom; yet, introduce education policies that have little to no value in education.
Curran advises retirees to, “stay in touch with schools from your area and get to know the teachers,” as one way to stay active and committed to public education.