NEA Vice President Becky Pringle championed the value that retired educators bring to the MTA and to the fight for a more equitable society during her keynote address at the 2019 MTA Retired Gathering.
In an interview before her speech on the first evening of the two-day event, Pringle said that retired educators are upending stereotypes.
“Instead of golfing, they are out there fighting,” Pringle said. “They are fighting for students and members and schools. They are in meetings making decisions that strengthen our organization and strengthen our communities.”
Pringle’s words rang true throughout the gathering, which was held on Sept. 24 and 25 at the Hilton Boston-Woburn Hotel, as MTA Retired members attended workshops devoted to issues such as institutional racism, climate change and funding for public education.
Of course, educators do not become activists just when they retire. Rather, the conference reflected how activism carries over from one’s career into retirement. That point was made most clearly with the annual Honor Our Own award, presented this year to Louise Gaskins.
“Instead of golfing, they are out there fighting, They are fighting for students and members and schools. They are in meetings making decisions that strengthen our organization and strengthen our communities.”NEA Vice President Becky Pringle
During her long career, Gaskins worked tirelessly on civil rights issues and efforts to expand the power of ethnic minority educators in public education through their unions.
At the state level, her work helped lead to the establishment of the MTA Human Relations Committee, which created an annual award in her name, and the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee. Over the decades, she has remained an MTA and NEA activist, playing key roles on countless committees and working groups.
At the national level, Gaskins fought for change as an NEA director and as a delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly, which she has attended many times.
MTA Retired Members Committee Chair Jacqueline Gorrie and committee member Anne Wass nominated Gaskins for the Honor Our Own award. Once her name was introduced, the committee chose her by acclimation.
“I’m just happy to be recognized in such a way for the work that I have done over the years,” Gaskins told the crowd. “The MTA and NEA came into my life at a special time, when I was looking to do more.”
Pringle was among many educators at the gathering who praised Gaskins and congratulated her on the award.
“Louise has always been a leader,” Pringle said. “She has led formally and informally.”
Pringle’s keynote speech touched upon the same issues of social justice that were covered in many of the workshops at the gathering. Unionized educators are the best hope for creating a just and equitable society in which all families are treated with dignity and all students have access to an excellent public education, she told the crowd.
“We need to keep doing what is right for our children,” Pringle said. “As educators, that responsibility does not end when you retire.”
Many who attended the event were more than willing to take on that responsibility.
“It’s exciting to see MTA retirees struggle with the difficult issues of the day,” said committee member Andrei Joseph.
The gathering retained many popular workshops on the legal and financial considerations that retirees face. There were also educational workshops on genealogy, art, history and politics.
“It’s a member-driven event, so you get a nice variety of workshops,” said retiree Marilyn Bemis. “Some want to get a better understanding of finances; others want to plug in to social justice actions. We have a cross-section of activities.”
“It’s exciting to see MTA retirees struggle with the difficult issues of the day.”Retired Committee member Andrei Joseph
Alice Reilly described the gathering as a way for retirees like her to stay connected with the union.
“This is where I come to meet up with friends and stay active with the MTA,” she said.
MTA President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page gave overviews of the MTA’s role in the fight to dramatically increase funding for public education in the state, from prekindergarten to higher education. Najimy and MTA Executive Director-Treasurer Lisa Gallatin also led a Wednesday morning plenary session that opened up discussions on how retirees can stay active in their locals.
Najimy and Gallatin emphasized the important mentoring role that retirees can play, particularly in helping new educators better understand how their involvement with the union can be used to create the kinds of learning environments and working conditions they want.
Some aspects of the gathering change from year to year, but some traditions remain. MTA Benefits showcased many of its partners and supplied a wide range of giveaway prizes. And retirees contributed hundreds of dollars to VOTE, which supports political activity that benefits public education.
As always, the generosity of the retirees toward students was on display as a mountain of school supplies was collected for donation to the Woburn Public Schools. Woburn Teachers Association President Barbara Locke gratefully accepted the donated items, which ranged from pencil sharpeners to playground toys — all requested by members when told that the retirees would be making the donation.
Gerry Ruane, a member of the Retired Members Committee, remarked that once the state Legislature passes MTA-backed public education funding bills, “we will not have to do this, because the teachers and students will have everything that they need.”