From the St. Petersburg Times
by Marlene Sokol
TAMPA — Their deliveries varied but their messages were the same: Love your job as a Hillsborough County teacher. Do it professionally.
And join the union.
“You probably have not seen or thought or heard of an administrator, or particularly a superintendent, telling you how great the union is,” superintendent MaryEllen Elia told more than 600 new teachers Wednesday.
“But I’m here to tell you it’s a huge part of the work that we do, and it’s a huge part of success for the students and teachers in the school district.”
Elia and other school district officials spoke for more than an hour during the third day of teacher training at New Tampa’s Freedom High School.
Several drew on their own new-teacher memories. Elia recalled how, in 1970, she was often second-guessed by her students. They were high school seniors, she explained, “and it was 1970.”
School Board chairwoman Doretha Edgecomb described entering her first school as a new teacher in 1964 with a list of 35 students — and perhaps 25 seats for them.
“The kind of support that you have, I would have died to have that support,” she said. She invited dozens of officials and union leaders to the front of the auditorium to prove her point.
And she implored the new teachers to reflect soberly on what they might accomplish.
“You’re going to encourage, impress, you’re going to motivate, you’re going to inspire, you’re going to provoke, you’re going to evoke, you’re going to build dreams,” she said.
“You’re going to be, for some of the schools that you are going into, the only true model of success some students know and see and have contact with every day. That’s powerful. Please don’t take it for granted.”
The speeches were mostly upbeat, as Hillsborough has been able to avoid the layoffs and furloughs seen in other districts.
Elia, acknowledging a lack of respect teachers experience in some political and media circles, urged the teachers to help turn that image around.
“You have to see yourself as a professional,” she told them. “And when people ask you what you do, you have to talk about your profession. Because that is how we will switch what happens in people’s minds when they think of a teacher.”
She and her staff also touted “Empowering Effective Teachers,” a massive training, mentoring and evaluative system in Hillsborough that has enjoyed national attention. The program’s success rests in part on Hillsborough’s amicable relationship with the Classroom Teachers Association, which itself has been hailed as a model.
Raising standards is crucial, Elia said, to prepare students for today’s global economy.
“No kid can be left without the supports they need,” she said. “And you’re the ones giving it to them.”