Dolores Ramirez PortraitIt was my great pleasure to preside over our 57th annual convention a few weeks ago in Houston. This experience, combined with my visits to school districts and colleges of education throughout the state and the many contacts with our members I have been privileged to enjoy, have confirmed my highest expectations of our members. It has been such an honor to work with a group of professionals who, throughout the many adversities experienced this year, have remained focused on their students and helping them to succeed while budget cuts and limited resources make good outcomes that much more difficult.

I have heard the stories about discipline issues that create almost impossible teaching conditions, and watched a member of my own family deal with an unexpected legal issue and receive the help of TCTA’s outstanding legal team. Veteran teachers have told me of reassignments to grade levels or subjects they haven’t taught in years, and the pressure they feel to resign or retire. And members ranging from experienced teachers to probationary contract teachers who are just beginning to practice the profession for which they have trained all feel the same fear when their local school boards announce plans for reductions in force. Nobody knows who is safe, though everybody has bills to pay. Our phones are busy every single day at TCTA Headquarters with calls from those affected by these district decisions and cutbacks.

Legislators need to know how the cuts are affecting our schools and students

Recently, my state Senator, Eddie Lucio, conducted a town hall meeting regarding school finance issues. His office asked that we make our members aware of the opportunity to come discuss the issues with him, and I agreed to make remarks on behalf of teachers regarding how the cutbacks were affecting the schools and our students. Interestingly, I was the only teacher to speak. The other organizations did not send teachers as their representatives. It was my understanding from Sen. Lucio’s staff that the format of the town hall meetings in the future would be changed to permit more direct input from educators. I appreciated Sen. Lucio taking the initiative to set up these town hall meetings and provide a structured opportunity for input. 

But all of our legislators and candidates for legislative office need to be hearing from us, whether they’ve invited us to comment or not. Every candidate for the Texas Legislature (and because we have just gone through redistricting this is one of the rare years when they are all up for election) needs to understand what the cutbacks in education funding have meant “on the ground” – in our classrooms and to our students, as well as to our profession. Now that the legislative district boundaries are finalized, you will soon be receiving information from TCTA customized for you, showing how your legislators voted on key education issues last session (if incumbents are running for re-election in your district) and referring you to surveys completed by candidates for legislative seats if the candidates in your district chose to submit them.

Spread the good word about TCTA

Our phone lines are increasingly busy, and we are, once again, receiving way too many calls from nonmembers who have encountered an unexpected legal issue and want to join after the fact. Of course, we cannot assist anyone with a legal issue that arose prior to the effective date of membership, and the membership enrollment period for 2011-12 has now closed, except for those who are newly hired. It is surprising how many teachers do not realize that we are not like the Red Cross, which depends on charitable contributions to be available when disaster strikes. We are a professional association that counts on and serves our members, who pay dues so that we can maintain a staff and lawyers and a Teacher Defense Fund so that those who have joined can be served when they need help or information for employment-related legal problems. We’re quite a bargain when you consider that most private practice attorneys are going to charge in excess of $200 per hour.

So why am I “preaching to the choir” when those of you reading this column have already joined? Because after serving this year as your State President, I am more persuaded than ever that every teacher in Texas needs to be a member of this outstanding organization. Times are difficult, and there are few, if any, among us who are immune from cutbacks, angry parents, student accusations, a new principal who may not like your style, or a remark being misconstrued. I have heard the fear in the voices of teachers who have nowhere to turn and no organization to help them when they need facts and help. It is my personal mission to do everything I can to persuade those who are not joining that they need to take a hard look at the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. How many of you have spoken to a TCTA attorney, or sent in an “ask a lawyer” question, or received high quality professional development or information you needed from TCTA?  Word of mouth counts.  Let your colleagues, especially the younger ones who may not be aware how vulnerable they are, know that they need TCTA.

Thank you for letting me serve this year as your State President. It has been an honor and a privilege, and I will go back to my classroom in the fall enriched by the experience and more persuaded than ever that we are all made stronger by joining together in TCTA.