From one year to the next, there’s always something new at the NJEA Convention.
But this year is like no other.
With only one exception since 1853, members of what became the New Jersey Education Association, originally known as New Jersey State Teachers’ Association (NJSTA), have met annually somewhere.
In the living memory of nearly all NJEA members, that somewhere has always been Atlantic City, but in the 19th century, the annual convention had no permanent home. It moved from place to place—often from school to school—around the state. By the end of the 1800s, the convention had already grown too large to be held in smaller communities and alternated between Trenton and Newark.
Since 1905, what we now call the NJEA Convention has met in Atlantic City with only six exceptions. In 1922 and 1923, the association again tried to alternate between cities, meeting in Trenton and Newark respectively. In 1924, it returned to Atlantic City. But with soldiers lodged in Atlantic City during World War II, the convention once again moved: to Trenton in 1942 and New York City in 1943 and 1944. Since 1945, the convention has been nowhere else but Atlantic City.
Only once in the association’s nearly 167 years has the convention been cancelled. That was in 2012 in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
NJEA members met for their annual convention through the American Civil War, two world wars, and notably, given today’s circumstances, the 1918 Flu Pandemic.
That level of commitment to the profession is a tribute to NJEA members. No matter the circumstances, members have found a way to meet year in and year out to improve their teaching and career practices and to advocate for public education in New Jersey. It’s that level of commitment that has long made New Jersey public school students high achievers.
That commitment continues with the 2020 NJEA Convention, when the convention will be held in a radically different way: Together From Home. The world was very different a century ago during the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Today, we have the tools to meet without putting our students, families and communities back home at risk.
As is true every year, professional learning will be the centerpiece of the NJEA Convention. Most session presenters, who early in the year developed proposals for in-person workshops, quickly pivoted to a virtual format.
There are over 150 professional development sessions covering a broad range of instructional, technological, and affective areas of curricula from pre-kindergarten through higher education. There are also dozens of workshops addressing racial, social and education justice. All of these are listed in the 2020 NJEA Convention Program you received with the October edition of the NJEA Review. You’ll also find them listed by grade level and subject area at njeaconvention.org.
The professional learning continues right through Friday afternoon on Nov. 6, when Ruby Bridges will appear as the featured keynote speaker. On Nov. 14, 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges crossed the threshold of William Frantz Elementary School, courageously launching the desegregation of New Orleans’s public schools. Today, she is a published author who tours the country promoting social justice, telling her story to adults and children alike.
Educational support professionals (ESP) will also find opportunities to gain new learning in many of the workshops that apply to all members regardless of job category. In the ESP area of Main Street NJEA, ESPs will learn more about new legislation to protect their jobs, discuss key workplace safety and health issues, explore the basics of unionism and more.
Many features of the in-person convention will nonetheless be found at this year’s convention, including a massive Virtual Exhibit Hall, the NJEA Equity Alliance, the NJEA REAL Movement, the NEA Members of Color Network, NJEA Member Benefits, the NJEA Patriots Alliance, NJEA Preservice, the NJEA Early Career Network and so much more.
So while for only the second time since 1945, NJEA members will not be gathering in Atlantic City, we will be gathering “Together From Home.” This will be a learning experience for all of us—one we will not soon forget. But if we imagine the mindsets of those who attended NJSTA/NJEA Conventions in 1861, in 1917, in 1918, and in 1941, we know that we, in 2020, can emerge from this convention refreshed, motivated and ready to meet the challenges of our time.