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The Value of Friends and Experience

By Dave Arnold    

    Our annual conference of the National Education Association (NEA) Education Support Professionals (ESP) is always a fantastic gathering of approximately one thousand of my closest friends. The conference this year in Memphis, TN, was as good as it gets. We had great speakers, excellent workshops and time to meet up with old friends.

    The highlight, for me, was the annual NEA ESP of The Year Award. It was a delight to witness Judy Near of Colorado’s Canon City School District be named as the National Education Association’s 2012 ESP of the Year. “I did not get here alone,” said Near, a health technician and attendance clerk at Skyline Elementary School in Canon City. “There are so many people who should be standing up here with me.”

   A very humble, well put statement -- and it woke some of us up to a fact. Behind every person accomplishing something rewarding are many people who have motivated them to go the extra mile. I was at the dinner that evening with colleagues from Illinois and three were former Illinois ESP of The Year recipients. That began a discussion as to how one becomes a leader and who motivates and encourages members to start that path. If I may, I’ll share my story.

   After helping organize my local in Brownstown twenty years ago I was elected to be the local’s president. Ok – I was game. But I was hoping for a little guidance. This was all new to me and there were no other ESP locals anywhere nearby for advice. Luckily, I could talk with my UniServ Director, Marcus Albrecht, who was, and remains, a great resource.  When he didn’t have an answer he knew where to steer me.

   It was a beginning and it got better because Marcus encouraged me to attend our state and national ESP Conferences. While the training sessions I participated in were invaluable, the most valuable resources were the friends I made with other ESPs. There is nothing quite like the experiences and advice of fellow ESP that have fought the battles to motivate and guide you through your own skirmishes. There is also nothing that can compare to their friendship, which if we are lucky may endure through your work life and into retirement, especially since most of us live in the community where we work.

    For rank-and-file members and association representatives, the local president is the lead motivator for the local. She or he encourages each individual to be their best. The local president knows their members, their talents and their areas of expertise. The president will work with the other local leaders seeking advice and support for ideas and action. The local president will encourage members to become involved on local and state committees or represent the membership at the state or national representative assembly. They will encourage new leaders and seek out different viewpoints for those creative problem solving moments.

   As I have talked with other ESPs, I have come to realize that the vast majority of them, including myself, truly enjoy working at their chosen profession. Of course we all have to have an income to sustain ourselves, but we also enjoy our careers and being a positive influence on children and thus having a positive impact upon the future of our nation. But, we can only obtain all of this through our own hard work and the knowledge we have gain from other ESP, trainers, and staff members.

   To put it simply, leaders are not just born. They are developed from raw material. And while much of the development does come from interacting with other members and leaders, there is a fair amount we all learn from in the form of manuals and books and power points and videos. Not all at once, but in time. If you are interested in learning more, do speak with your local president and other veteran members and leaders. Speak to your own local or state ESP of the Year, or one of the national awardees

    If you find yourself at a conference, check out who is there. Folks like Oregon Education Association President Gail Rasmussen, who became the first ESP to become a NEA State Affiliate President, or ESP members Mike Hoffmann, Delaware State Education Association Vice-President, or Steve Cook, Michigan Education Association State President, or NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen. Any of them or more will be happy to share their experiences.

   Other resources? Check out the NEA ESP Website or the new Education Support Professionals Handbook produced by Oregon Education Association.

Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. He works in Brownstown Community School District # 201. But most Association members know him best from the editorials he has written for various NEA media properties since 2001.


Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.