A calling to care for children

Meet Mercer County ESP of the Year Linda McRae

Linda McRae had accomplished a great deal in her professional life before her career in public education. She first worked with ETS (formerly Educational Testing Service). In 1978, she moved to California where she worked for that state’s Department of Social Services and then for Hughes Aircraft Company. Upon her return to New Jersey she worked for the Urban League of Metropolitan Trenton as an AIDS facilitator/administrative assistant.  

After working at NJM insurance company since 1998, she took an early retirement and was running her own business. Then a friend asked her to consider working in education. 

“I’m a very caring person,” McRae said. “I do a lot of volunteering in our community, but I never thought about going into education.”  

She first worked for the Trenton Board of Education as a substitute teacher, but after one month the position was transferred to Source for Teachers. McRae worked for that company until the Trenton Board of Education started hiring paraprofessionals in special education. She applied and got a position.  

After five years with Trenton Public Schools she was laid off, but two years later she was called back, along with a few of her colleagues.   

“When I came back, it was at almost half of my salary,” McRae recalled. “I came back for the kids, but my experience through all of this helped me understand the union a bit more. I got a lot more involved. I joined the Pride Committee and the ESP Committee.  

By going to association workshops and conferences, McRae said she began to see that the union was really doing a lot for its members.  

“Most people don’t know what’s going on, they just pay their dues,” McRae said. “But if you want to know what’s happening, you have to get involved. And once I got involved, the association saw what I was doing in the community and that I was an asset to them.” 

McRae retired at the end of the 2021-22 school year. 

As a paraprofessional, McRae worked with special education students, including those with learning disabilities, cognitive impairments and autism.  

“I would re-teach students,” McRae said. “Paraprofessionals mirror the teachers and reinforce the lessons with students who have difficulty understanding the subject. I really liked working with children because I felt they really need me. It’s not just academics; it’s more social and emotional learning, life skills, and trauma-informed learning. I wanted to help them as much as I could.” 

McRae, who has a grown child of her own, felt an immediate connection with the students she taught.  

“I got hooked,” she remembered. “I started loving the kids and the kids loved me back. I felt that some of the children I was working with really needed that love.”  

McRae was inspired to continue her education in order to better assist her students.  

“In the educational community, you’re constantly learning and growing, so I went back and finished my degree in organizational management,” McRae said. “Once I finished that, I wanted to continue learning. I kept taking professional development classes. As the kids are learning, you’re learning, too.” 

McRae is honored to have been named the 2022 Mercer County ESP of the Year.  

“I was really surprised,” McRae said. “At school and in the community, I try to do the best I possibly can, and someone else saw that, too.” 

McRae looked ahead to retirement at the end of the 2021-22 school year but had no plans to end her union involvement.  

“I want to continue to be involved with the union, even after I retire, as an NJREA member,” she said.