By Mariah Belber

When you hear “NJEA Early Career Network,” chances are your first thought is of the NJEA Convention and a long line of members on Main Street NJEA waiting for their tickets to the popular Early Career Networking Night. While that is one of the Early Career Network’s biggest events of the year, there is so much more to this newer initiative from NJEA and NEA that is helping to shape the future of our union.

Why is the Early Career Network important?

Now more than ever, getting NJEA members involved in the association early in their careers is critical. This allows our members to learn the inner workings of a union and understand why being a member is vital. It also allows early career members to connect with one another and discuss the wins and struggles they may have as a member in their first five years.

Who is part of the Early Career Network?

The Early Career Network, or ECN, is a group of members who collaborate with NJEA staff from the Organizational Development and UniServ divisions to invite members in their first five years into NJEA spaces. There are three groups based on location that plan events geared toward members who fall into the 0-5 years category, but all NJEA members are welcome to attend, from NJEA Preservice to NJREA.

Our three groups, Team North, Central Connection and Team South, are made up of passionate organizers and leaders from the counties they serve, and many are leaders in their local associations as early career members. These organizers are mostly in their first five years as educators or have just exited the “early career” stage.

What does the ECN do?

In pre-COVID times, the three teams met and planned events geared toward members in their first five years that address some of NJEA’s core values: professional development, political action, advocacy, and racial and social justice. The ECN also holds events around leadership at local, county and state levels, to expose newer members to how the union is structured. Since many early career members are burdened with student debt, we have hosted events about student debt and how one of the NJEA/NEA Member Benefits programs can help provide relief.

Since the pandemic began, the ECN has been working hard to support members in their first five years during this unprecedented time. We have partnered with NJEA staff to provide Google Classroom training, a certification and tenure “Ask me Anything” session, Chapter 44 (health insurance) workshops, and workshops about various virtual learning platforms. While these activities are geared toward members in their first five years, all members are invited and encouraged to attend.

During the summer of 2020, the ECN hosted a statewide mile challenge called The 180 Project. Over 220 members connected and strived to walk or run 180 miles within two months to represent the law that mandates New Jersey’s minimum number of instructional school days.

We are currently running another health and wellness event, “Beat the Blues,” where members will have three months to complete 100 workouts that last 20 minutes or more. During this, members will be able to connect through a Facebook group and participate in member-run workouts and meditations to help “beat” the winter blues!

When did the ECN start?

Five years ago, a few early career members who held local leadership positions attended a Winter Leadership Conference. Looking around the space, they quickly realized that there were very few other early career folks in attendance. This realization led them to found the NJEA Early Career Network to encourage fellow early career members to get more involved with their union and advance their advocacy skills.

How do I get involved?

Are you a member in your first five years or just interested in supporting those who are? Make sure you check out our social media postings and join us at our next virtual event, and one day, in-person events again!

If you are a local or county leader who is interested in getting your early career members more engaged, please reach out to the Early Career Network in your area to discuss events near you or help getting your own Early Career Committee started!

Visit njea.org/earlycareer to learn more. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter search for NJEA Early Career

Mariah Belber is the Pride chair and webmaster for the Highland Park Education Association. She is a teacher in the advanced learning program in Highland Park Public Schools. Belber can be reached at belber.mariah.elizabeth@gmail.com.

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