Ben Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Perhaps he should have added “change” to what is certain. Change is inevitable. We may look forward to change, and yet we fear it. Sometimes we can control change and sometimes it just happens. The question is how do we respond to change. Do we let it define us, or do we prepare for change and control our own destiny?
Educators deal with change all of the time. Whether it’s changes to standards and curriculum or changes to the school board and school administration, educators are able to adapt. It’s what we do because we are professionals. It’s what we do because of our students. With the election of President Trump and his subsequent appointment of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education, change is certainly coming. This is nothing new. However, the coming change seems different. It’s causing uncertainty and fear. What does it mean for our schools? For our profession? What does it mean for the promise of a great public school for every student?
With change being a certainty, we have two options. We can sit back and let others determine our fate and the fate of our students, or we can prepare to vigorously defend our rights and those of our colleagues. More importantly, we can raise our voices even more loudly to defend the rights of all of our students. As your SDEA President, I want the future to be of our shaping and not shaped by others, especially those who are not committed to our mission: a great public school for all students.
We have seen what change looks like in places like Wisconsin and Iowa. It means that educators no longer have a voice in the decisions that impact their working environments, which is indeed their students’ learning environment. What does that mean for their unions, what does it mean for their profession, what does it mean for their students?
I don’t want to wait for something to happen, something that we are forced to react to. I want to prepare. At our upcoming Representative Assembly in April, I will be asking to put together a task force to look at how we as an association collect our dues. One way to weaken our voice is to take away payroll deduction. Will it happen here in South Dakota? I don’t know, but I want us to be prepared. I also want to start a broader discussion about the importance of membership. Is it only about collective bargaining or is it about standing together for our profession and students? I believe it is about the latter. The more voices we have the stronger our chorus, and now, more than ever, our schools and our students need us to come together to support public education and the professionals who make it happen every day.
Yes, change is inevitable, but collectively we have the power to make it work for our students. We do it every day in our classrooms. We did it last year with the sales tax increase. We have the power to do it again for the promise of a great public education. I know we are up to the challenge. We will chart our own path for our students, for our schools and for our profession. Together we will continue to make a difference!
Mary J. McCorkle