The following are remarks prepared for delivery by 2012 Idaho Teacher of the Year, who addressed her fellow Idaho Education Association members today at the IEA's 120th Delegate Assembly in Boise.

Good morning!   I am so honored to be here today to speak with you.  It is exciting to be in a room with so many dedicated, committed professionals that share the same passion of teaching tomorrow’s future.  I have no doubt, Idaho teachers are some of the best in the nation.  Each day we step into the classroom to teach children to the best of our abilities.  We go the extra mile to make sure our students receive a quality education.  We teach, encourage, coach, parent, counsel, and support.  We have high expectations for ourselves and our students.  We give of ourselves until there is little energy left and then we get up the next day and do it all over again.  And why…because we know, we make a difference in the lives of children. 

Thirty five years ago, I graduated from high school at the age of 17.  Since college was not encouraged by my parents and family tradition was to marry early, that’s what I did, two weeks after I graduated from high school.  By the age of 22, I had three children.  Sound like a recipe for disaster?  Well, it didn’t turn out that way.  This June, my husband and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.  We have three grandchildren and we continue to be a close knit family.  I’m telling you this for a specific purpose.  While there is more than one factor involved, one reason for success is the fact that my husband has been a union member for 35 years and his union wages and benefits gave us the solid foundation we needed to raise a family. 

For decades, union members have been the backbone of America.  From Detroit to Hollywood to Pittsburgh to Boise, it has been union members who have kept us safe, responded to our emergencies, delivered the mail, assembled the automobiles, erected the buildings, built our dams, roads and bridges, and taught America’s children.   I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of belonging to a strong union.  My family is an example of what unions have done for our nation.  In fact, I would not have attended college to become a teacher without my husband’s ability to provide for our family as a result of being paid a fair living wage. 

I began teaching eleven years ago after working four years as a paraprofessional.  My journey to become an educator began with a chance encounter.  Someone I barely knew told me that I should become a teacher.  I jokingly told her that was a dream left behind a long time ago.  To my surprise, this woman, who happened to be a second grade teacher, was persistent in encouraging me to apply for an aide position in our local school district.  Her consistent belief in my abilities gave me the confidence to do what she asked.  Lo and behold, I was hired and my life has never been the same.

As educators, each of us has a passion that we share with each other and the children we teach.  My passion happens to be working with beginning and struggling readers.  I believe reading is an essential skill for success in school and in society.  Illiteracy has a devastating and costly effect on all of us.  Research connects illiteracy to the likelihood of dropping out of high school; being incarcerated; being unemployed; and it is a drain on national, state, and local economies.  It is frustrating that illiteracy still persists when there is a wealth of knowledge and research available to prevent reading failure.

For those of you who work with struggling readers, you understand how heartbreaking it is to work with children who with each passing year become more defeated when their efforts to read go unrewarded.  Witnessing this heartbreak has been a driving force for me as a teacher.   Over the years, I have been purposeful in gaining knowledge about teaching reading and implementing changes in the daily routines of the school system.  I wanted to reduce the likelihood of students leaving elementary school unable to read.

I certainly did not do this in a vacuum though.  My colleagues at Winton Elementary School, a staff of dedicated educators, like all of you, have given their time, energy, and resources to ensure success for all of our students.  In fact, one of those teachers is here today, Kim Youngman.    I know Kim will agree with me when I say, Winton has a distinctive staff of educators in that despite differences in opinion and perspectives our entire staff works together as a team to reach our goals.  We support each other through good times and bad.  We share resources and ideas.  We take care of one another.  And through it all, we have each other’s backs. 

Our willingness to work together has proven to be successful.  For the past two years, over 90% of our students have scored proficient or advanced on the Reading, Math, and Language Usage ISATS.  When you take into account nearly 65% of our students are on free and reduced lunch, you can appreciate how excited and proud we have been over those accomplishments.  

Unfortunately, it has recently been decided that our principal, the leader of our team, will be transferred to another school in our district next year.  This was a disappointing decision to our staff, parents, and students.  We have felt a range of emotions from being intensely angry to being extremely discouraged.  It would be easy to give up and lose that cohesiveness that has gotten us through many storms before.   Working together as a team has been our strength.  We cannot abandon that now.
Change is inevitable.  It is usually hard, messy, and frustrating.  It can be divisive and life changing.  Education is in the middle of such a change. 

As educators, we are faced with a daunting task.  How do we continue to teach children with all the energy and passion needed and fight those who attack our profession?  How can we be innovative in meeting the challenges of 21st Century classrooms when some of education’s stakeholders refuse to acknowledge our voices?  What will we do to combat the corrosive discouragement amongst teachers that has eaten away at morale and has driven some to leave the profession?  I wish these problems were easy to solve but there isn’t a simple solution.  It will take hard work and perseverance to overcome them.

I think of those who have overcome struggles in the past.  I think of those who have stayed determined even at the darkest hour, those who have shared their passionate beliefs to encourage others, and those who stand strong with one another.  Margaret Meade stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

When I am at my lowest point, discouraged and disillusioned with little energy left, I think of the children I educate and advocate for.  I think of those moments when something I have said or did improves the life of a child.  You know those moments.  They are the ones you keep in your heart, no one else knows about them not even the child you just impacted.  I also think of my colleagues who depend on me as an integral part of team.  I have a responsibility to be there when they need me, to let them help me when I am down, and to share my passions with them.  These two thoughts, the children I teach and the colleagues I work with keep me coming back day after day.

Teaching is a challenging and tough profession, yet one of the most rewarding.  If we are judged by the company we keep, I am honored to be in the company of so many fine professionals.  I am proud to be an educator.  I am proud to be a member of the Idaho Education Association.  I am honored to represent Idaho teachers.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today and thank you most of all, for all you do for Idaho children!