For much of her 10-year career as an educator, Christina Felix really didn’t understand how easy it was to engage with the Idaho Education Association and her local education association.
And Maddie Laurtizen spent the first of her two years as an educator feeling unconnected to her colleagues and her profession.
But after taking leaps of their own into the work of their local education associations and joining IEA’s Growing Engaged Members (GEMs) initiative in southwest Idaho, both are emerging as ambassadors of engagement, soaking up experience and knowledge in how to energize members in the important work of their union.
The pair recently joined IEA staffers at a Year Round Organizing conference hosted by the National Education Association in Portland November 18-20. They spent three days learning the ins and outs of engaging and organizing members from NEA’s best.
“I want to know how to propel the change that educators want to see,” said Felix, a fourth grade elementary teacher who was recently elected president of the Parma Education Association. The conference gave her an opportunity to dig in and learn from national experts and other member organizers from around the country.
She said as her engagement with the association builds and her knowledge of it grows, she cannot help but feel a deep appreciation for the camaraderie the association offers members — from the national level all the way down to her own school building in Parma.
“It’s not just me showing up,” she said. “It’s a whole community.”
Lauritzen, a 7th grade English teacher at Sawtooth Middle School and member of the West Ada Education Association, was initially unsure of herself and her place in the profession, like most new educators. When asked to help organize her colleagues around the work of her local, she was hesitant — not sure how to start conversations with more experienced educators about engaging with a union she herself had only just joined.
“I didn’t expect I would enjoy being a member organizer in the way that I have,” said Lauritzen. “Being engaged with the association and GEMs gave me the confidence as a young educator to have those conversations. It also gave me more confidence in the classroom.”
She said learning about the association and encouraging others to be part of its work helped her better understand her own rights and tactics for dealing with students, parents and administrators. Her union engagement offers professional insight and camaraderie that might take years to build otherwise, she said.
Her short tenure as an educator and then member organizer for the WAEA taught her that “people aren’t unwilling” to join the association and get involved in its work.
“They just didn’t know or weren’t asked to be more engaged,” she said. “Lots of people just haven’t been talked to about the association.”
For both Lauritzen and Felix, the NEA conference broadened their vision about the support and influence behind IEA members — access to expertise and resources, hearing how other educators deal with the same challenges they face, pro tips from those who’ve been in the union trenches for years.
And they want every Idaho educator to know the support and camaraderie they are discovering is there for any educator who needs it.
“The association is so approachable — just reach out,” Felix said.
“And don’t undervalue your own experience,” Lauritzen added.