As we approach the end of Women’s History Month, the NEA Team had the chance to catch up with Jaffa Williams, a Mathematics Education Major, who has also been appointed to the NEA Advisory Committee of Student Members for the 2016–2017 school year.
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Jaffa aspires to educate the next generation of students and organize the next generation of teachers. We were able to talk with her about who inspires her, what makes her want to be an activist and what the greatest challenges are for education. Below are the outtakes of our conversation:
NEA: You have chosen to be an educator, an organizer and an activist. In Women’s History Month, who do you celebrate?
Jaffa: I’ll start with Mary McLeod Bethune who was a racial justice activist and sought to improve educational opportunities for women and African-Americans. She started a school for African-American students here in Daytona Beach, Florida, that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University. She also served as both president of the National Association of Colored Women and founder of the National Council of Negro Women. She made such a big difference in the lives of women and African Americans, and I think about her and all she accomplished at the time she accomplished them when I need a little inspiration.
I also celebrate the strong women who are advisors and mentors here in the College of Education at Florida A&M University. My school remains among the top producers of African-American teachers in the United States. In a field dominated by women, it is really important to have women represented in leadership within the college who want to inspire young women and show us what is possible.
NEA: Why was it important for you to seek a leadership role within the union and what issues really drive you?
Jaffa: Well, it’s been a crazy year—I mean Betsy DeVos is the Secretary of Education! When I look at what’s happening across the country in the field of education – the attacks on unions, the dismissive way teachers are treated by policymakers and the alarming funding priorities, I know that I need to take action. Organizing the collective voice of educators in the union is the best way to make a difference.
The issues I really care about are the challenges presented by institutional racism like the school to prison pipeline. Every student, no matter where they live or the color of their skin deserves a great education.
NEA: With all that is happening across the country, what is the biggest issue facing our nation’s students and education system?
Jaffa: That’s easy—resources and respect. My fellow students consider other options, even those who have a passion for education and would love to be teachers. We follow the way politicians prioritize our work and make budget decisions that don’t place a value on high quality public educators or education. When college students weigh the cost of their education and the potential job security and pay scale, many of my peers just can’t afford to make the choice to go into education. If our public schools don’t attract and retain smart, committed educators who will inspire the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and artists?
NEA: Why do you think it is important for educators to be advocates and activists?
Jaffa: Educators are on the frontlines in the classroom. They see first-hand what is working and what isn’t. It is so important for us to go to policymakers and lay out our case. If we don’t advocate for our students and our fellow educators no one will.