Thank You All

Serving the ETA and spending my career teaching in U-46 has been more challenging, exciting, fulfilling, surprising, maddening, and rewarding than I ever could have imagined. It would be impossible for me to thank everyone that has touched my time in ETA; students, colleagues of ETA/IEA/NEA, school families, and School Board all have given much to enrich my career.  Over 5000 Thank-you notes is not possible and using the last Rep Assembly for a lengthy speech would not endear me to them. So instead of trying to name all who have enriched my time in the ETA, I thought I would just take this time to share what I have to be thankful for rather than risk missing anyone name. Those relationships confirmed my professional commitment, and today, I find that my belief in the critical nature of public school and professional teachers unions has only grown stronger.  Public service, educators as professionals, and the value of the collective work: ETA has embodied all of those elements for my entire life in U-46 as student and as a Teacher. It has been a privilege to be a part of that ongoing history.

While I may be ending my career here in the position of an ETA Leader, for myself, I will always be an ETA Follower. Like many of you, I bought donuts for meetings, stuffed envelopes, and showed up when asked to support our organization. That role is what I am proudest of and hope will be the ongoing shared vision of future members. An ETA Follower is a position of gratitude, embracing the power of the collective through shared values, beliefs, and interests. It is amazing to be a small but supporting role in the larger work. Much of the recent educational discourse has focused on leadership qualities, but we should not lose sight of the fact that any organizational success comes when individuals choose to support mutual interests for the benefit of the group. Individual success comes from the support of all. Over the last 6 years, the agreements with the District that expanded our professional voice and opportunity to lead, is truly a result of those that choose to actively support and follow the organization through daily volunteer activism. ETA members have always accomplished much by recognizing that we are our own best resource, and that our voluntary support of our stated purpose is our strength. Both Follower and Leaders need to be grateful for the support each provides.

As an ETA leader, I am always going to be grateful for the humanity, humor, and humility that were a part of my daily interaction. Humanity, a combination of individual strengths and weaknesses, success and failure, balanced our understanding of real needs. Our humanity is what allows us to have authentic relationships and fight external stereotypes. Political battles and external pressures could have made it easy at time to blame students, parent, administration, and colleagues for struggles. Instead, our choice is to include and collaborate. None of us is immune to personal challenges, and it has been my privilege to support colleagues as they manage and learn from those individual moments. This goes to the core of our organizational service. It is not only to be accepted but celebrated.

Clearly that sense of community is how we can also find endless moments of joy and humor in our world. We all know that students are a constant surprise, which is why many of us make this our career. The same capacity for surprises is our professional nature also, always looking for innovation and solutions that can have inspiring results. We celebrate together those moments as well as the moments of struggles. Life can make for very painful and difficult times, but we often take the time to lighten that moment for others through simple traditions like BAM (ask a rep if you don’t know), or through larger service endeavors like our Those Who Excel Program. I appreciate those who continue to serve ETA by celebration and collegiality.

Finally, on a daily basis, for more than 30 years, I have been humbled by the amazing talent and dedication that is demonstrated by all of you. I know many feel that leadership somehow knows more and can find solutions to all our challenges. I have never accepted that description. Our growth as a professional organization is a result of engagement of groups that do more than just voice opinions, but act on those beliefs. The leadership makes sure those moments are fostered and supported with resources and reflection. Through this leadership, I have been privilege to be in the room to hear the creativity and inspiration come from all of you. I see an organization that is poised to truly embrace of culture of high professional expectations that require a common voice, made strong by each and every member.

The ETA first stated purpose, “To work for the welfare of children and the advancement of public educational opportunities for all.” for all these years has stood for why we continue to organize together. This is why we seek relationships, whether with colleagues from across the Nation through the NEA and IEA,  or with our learning partners in our own District. We accept the critical importance of our children, our schools, and our profession. I have had the opportunity to see that simple context played out in so many rooms with such an amazing number of diverse educators. I will always be grateful to all of you for every day of my career and hope for all of you continued success as a member of the ETA.

Kathryn Castle, ETA President

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