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May 10, 2013

New teachers’ union president seeks renewed respect, clout for educators

(Continued)

INDIANAPOLIS —

“Outside of those leaders who initially founded ISTA in 1854, I can’t imagine — from what I know of the history of our organization — a much more stressful time than what we’ve been through in the last six years,” she said.  “Yet he [Nate] still believes in the mission of who we are as an organization: To represent educators and to preserve and protect public education.”

Meredith is a believer too. Her decision to become a teacher and an advocate for teachers is rooted in her earliest experience with a teacher.

From a financially strapped family with little education and who couldn’t afford to pay the fee then charged to attend kindergarten, Meredith entered the first grade woefully unprepared.

“I was far behind. But I had the most amazing first-grade teacher,” Meredith said.

She remembers that teacher, the late Sue Griffith of Shelbyville, encouraging her as she first learned to read: “She said, ‘You’ve got to learn this. Once you learn this you can go anywhere you want to, in your mind. We’ve got a book for anything you can imagine.’”

Meredith would go on to become one of the first in her family to graduate from high school. And the first in her family to go to college.

Here’s what she also remembers from that first year in school: A teacher who lost her job when her pregnancy began to show. The following year, another teacher kept her job after she became pregnant. 

What changed? The passage by the Indiana General Assembly of the 1979 teachers collective bargaining law that, among other things, barred schools from firing teachers just because they were pregnant.

Meredith later learned that her beloved first-grade teacher had been active with ISTA in the effort to pass that law.

Now, in her new role, Meredith sees her charge is to help ISTA regain some of its lost political footing and help teachers rebuild some of the lost respect for their profession.

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