By Jen Bentivegna, Rutgers University
As the current NJEA Preservice vice president, and as a member of that organization for over a year, I have seen firsthand the benefits NJEA has to offer. Benefitting from professional development, conferences and networking opportunities, I have been given the chance to grow as an educator with those already working in a classroom prior to entering the teaching force.
I am now in my final semester as a student-teacher. As an intern in the Highland Park School District, I have worked closely with the teachers and educational support professionals (ESP) at my school, including Highland Park Education Association (HPEA) building representatives. I have watched the building representatives work with my fellow educators to ensure that, as HPEA members, they have what they need to do their jobs well—and, when necessary—advocate for change. I’ve learned what NJEA, HPEA and the Middlesex County Education Association can do for all educators.
In my first year as an NJEA Preservice member, I networked with many educators, some of whom are HPEA members. I met former NJEA Preservice President Hannah Pawlak, who works as a full-time teacher in Highland Park, at a “Know Your Rights” workshop sponsored by HPEA.
NJEA Preservice allows members to make connections and build lasting relationships with fellow educators, who are not only knowledgeable about educational practice, but also about union functions and operations.
This year, all student teachers in Highland Park were required to attend professional development at the beginning of the year. It was great to see not only one, but two familiar NJEA Preservice faces: Hannah Pawlak and Mariah Belber, who are teachers in the district. We greeted each other enthusiastically and snapped the photo on this page. We sat next to each other during the opening session on the first day.
The preservice organization operates like a family. We work together closely and appreciate all members, new and former, and I would not have known these two women if I had not been an NJEA Preservice member. NJEA Preservice enables me to build lasting relationships with fellow educators, who are not only knowledgeable about educational practice, but also about union functions and operations.
Over the past year, I have attended several HPEA professional development events. HPEA has enhanced my knowledge as an educator and helped to prepare me for my career ahead. As a result, I have engaged more deeply with the school community where I am student teaching.
Attending HPEA events has also informed me of the rights that teachers and ESP have as union members. This is not common knowledge among many aspiring educators who are not NJEA Preservice members. I learned of the different association positions within each school in the district and each member currently filling that position.
Having former preservice leaders in Highland Park allowed newly elected NJEA Preservice Secretary Angie Ghaly and me to understand HPEA’s role in the district and in the community. As executive board members of the NJEA Preservice, we are eager to learn more about the union, and ways that we can get more involved. I could not ask for a better introduction to the teaching profession.
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