Teachers union sows activist seeds in NY

Plant the seeds of unionism in a college student and you may be sowing solidarity across the country.

That's the philosophy behind the Student National Education Association, which offers union membership and an early lesson in activism to future teachers in New York state. SNEA has a long, proud history in the U.S. dating to the 1950s, with 60,000 current members on more than 900 college and university campuses.

Student members of NEA are schooled in leadership and professional development promoted by the NEA. They can network with other future teachers at national conferences.

In turn, one out of three NEA Student Program members goes on to become an NEA leader - an important consideration with hundreds of thousands of teachers reaching retirement age across the country this year.

SNEA will soon be in place as a pilot project at five chapters of United University Professions: Buffalo State, Cortland, Geneseo, Oneonta and Plattsburgh, which all have teacher education programs. UUP, led by William Scheuerman, is the NYSUT affiliate representing academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York.

"The SNEA program gives students a positive impression of union culture," said NYSUT Vice President Robin Rapaport. He sees the potential for the program to expand to community colleges.

To be eligible for membership, students must intend to go into a teaching profession, Rapaport said, and that makes community colleges strong choices for future involvement with SNEA.

"Anyone going to community college is eligible to apply and, in fact, many of our young teachers start with two years of community college," Rapaport said.

SNEA has added potential in New York state through last year's unification of NYSUT and NEA/ New York.

Nationally, New York is renowned for its strong teacher prep programs. Graduates of NYSUT-member colleges and universities are in demand in other regions of the country, Rapaport said.

There's an advantage to encouraging college students in New York degree programs to participate in SNEA, he noted, even if they end up working in other states.

"New York provides huge numbers of educators to other states — states like Nevada and New Mexico," Rapaport said. "So they go to Nevada as union members, and if they go to Oklahoma or other states that are right-to-work states, they go in with the mindset of a union member."

SNEA members can access the Achievement Standards Network, a digital version of every state's core academic standards, as well as samples of core lessons culled from a number of nationally recognized resources.


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