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Virginia Journal of Education


VEA Members Teach, Learn at Instructional Conference

“I still think I can make a difference and as long as I feel that way, I’m in the right job.”

“I teach kids that no one else can work with. I can, and they need me.”

“I have two little boys and I want them to be able to say, ‘My mom is a teacher.’”

Those are solid reasons for devoting one’s career to education—and they were among the responses offered by VEA members to the question, “Why do you continue to teach?” during a workshop entitled “Finding Teacher Voice” at the VEA’s Instructional Conference in Richmond in November.

The conference, themed “Advancing Teaching, Learning and Leading,” brought together over 200 Virginia educators to learn from their colleagues and to direct their own professional development.
The cornerstone of the weekend was the Virginia premiere of the acclaimed documentary film, “The Mitchell 20,” which tells the both inspiring and, at times, heartbreaking story of 20 teachers at a disadvantaged elementary school in Phoenix. Those teachers banded together and took the quality of their school’s instruction into their own hands, making great strides—and meeting strong resistance.

A panel discussion followed the documentary screening, featuring NEA President Dennis Van Roekel; former VEA and NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell; Nancy Flanagan, teacher-in-residence at the U.S. Department of Education; Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education; and Daniela Robles, one of “The Mitchell 20.” Dr. Kitty Boitnott, VEA president, served as moderator.

Workshops available at the conference included improving conditions for teaching and learning; fostering creativity in the classroom, dealing with “over-involved” parents, improving discipline, preventing burnout, applying for grants, workplace issues for support professionals, new teacher evaluation processes, teacher leadership, classroom management, and developing a support network for the national certification process. 

Retiring? VEA Can Help

If you’re looking at retiring in the next several years, VEA can help you prepare wisely and well through a series of regional retirement meetings this spring. The workshops, listed below, will provide sound advice and the latest Virginia Retirement System information. Contact your local UniServ office for details on your local meeting.

March 20      Fredericksburg
March 20      Fairfax
March 27      Richmond
April 3          Abingdon
April 4          Roanoke
April 11        Winchester
April 12        Staunton
April 17        Newport News
April 19        Charlottesville
April 25        Virginia Beach

Ask a VEA Attorney

  I have time for planning but remain with students all through the “lunch” period.  Do I have to eat while I work? 

ANSWER:  No state or federal law forces Virginia employers to give employees a meal break. Some other states have statutes that require a meal break for an employee who works more than a specified number of hours, but not Virginia.

The commonwealth does not guarantee teachers duty-free lunch. The 2011 General Assembly actually repealed a provision of state law establishing a Duty-Free Lunch Incentive Fund. The Fund had been created to encourage school divisions to provide duty-free lunch. Eliminating the Fund put the full cost of giving teachers duty-free lunch on the local school board. 
Consult your local UniServ Director about your schedule and local school board policy. Work with colleagues to reinforce the benefits of giving teachers and students time to eat, and help VEA convince members of the General Assembly to provide realistic school funding. 

Time to Protect Your Pension

The outlook for the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) brightened recently, but VEA anticipates that bills that would weaken VRS could well be introduced during this legislative session.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget plan, issued in December, includes a major infusion of cash for the VRS. The teacher fund within VRS now stands at 66 percent funded, as low as it has been in recent decades.

McDonnell’s announcement followed the release of a report by the state Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) that confirmed the strong value of a traditional pension, which is what teachers now have, and warned that conversion to a 401(k)-style plan would hurt efforts to recruit and retain employees. The report said defined-contribution plans, such as the 401(k), typically do not provide sufficient replacement income to provide adequate retirement security. All told, JLARC’s analysis confirmed the substance of VEA’s efforts to retain and strengthen the traditional pension plan.

Still, bills that pose a threat to your retirement security are likely to pop up in the General Assembly, and we need you to help oppose them. Follow the latest on pensions and VRS at and become a VEA cyberlobbyist at We’ll let you know when critical bills are pending and draft an e-mail you can send to your elected representatives.

NEA’s Agenda For Teachers

The NEA has announced a new action agenda aimed at boosting both the teaching profession and student learning, acting on the recommendations of its Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. The three-pronged agenda includes:

1. Raising the bar for entry into the teaching profession. Every beginning teacher should have one full year of residency under the guidance of a master teacher before licensure and should also pass a rigorous classroom-based performance assessment at the end of that year.

2. Teachers ensuring teacher quality. Teachers should guide the profession, as members of other professions do, through peer assistance and review programs, and roles as novice, professional and master teachers.

3. Association leadership. Teachers should take on leadership roles in policymaking and in developing curriculum and improving school performance.

“I am committing NEA’s strength and resources to making all these changes,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Five years from now, we want people to look at NEA as a major catalyst for bringing about the kind of education all Americans want, all teachers can deliver, and all children deserve.”

--from an editorial in The Washington Post

On the Move

An update on some VEA staff transitions:

• Marshall Leitch has retired as UniServ Director in the New River unit, after an Association career spanning 28 years.
• Fairfax UniServ Director Janet Dawson has retired after 16 years with VEA.
• Ernie Roberts has retired from his post as Cumberland Mountain UniServ Director, a position he held for 10 years.
• Elisabeth Beyer has retired from her position as staff assistant in the Office of Communications, Marketing and Technology. She served VEA for 24 years.
• Jennifer Theut has transferred from her position as UniServ Director in Mountain View to a similar position in Fairfax.
• Norman Brown has transferred to the Colonial UniServ unit from Virginia Beach, where he was serving as a UniServ Director.
• Retired UniServ Director Don Jenkins is managing the Cumberland Mountain UniServ office on a temporary basis.
• Jeff Pennington has been hired as the new UniServ Director in New River. Currently the vice president of the Portsmouth Education Association, Pennington is also a former Elementary Teacher of the Year in that city.


Message from the VEA President

By Dr. Kitty Boitnott

Autonomy Needed for Real Growth

The term "professional development" is getting a lot of use these days. Policymakers argue that teachers need it if they are going to be "effective" (another buzzword). Ironically, however, there is little agreement on what exactly we all mean by "professional development."

Administrators seem to sometimes mistake pre-packaged programs as "high quality” professional development, while teachers often groan either inwardly or out loud at such presentations. Too often, topics are selected based upon what administrators value, with little thought given to how PD for teachers should be differentiated. It’s one of the ironies of teachers’ lives that they’re forced to sit through cookie-cutter style PD while being expected to differentiate classroom instruction based on the individual needs of students.

It’s also sadly ironic that at the very time when there seems to be a consensus that we need "high quality" professional development for teachers, funding for such programs has been slashed. As a result, teachers are forced to endure workshops selected for them by administrators.

This is a trend that must be reversed if policymakers are serious about providing professional development that is meaningful to teachers, as well as support professionals, who do the many other jobs that are essential to the efficient operation of our schools.

Along with providing adequate funding for salaries, benefits and retirement, then, the state needs to take a look at providing its share of funding for high quality, meaningful professional development for school employees.

Why is this so critically important? Because teachers and support professionals should be allowed to make decisions about the type of professional development that would be most helpful to them. They should be allowed to select from a variety of options, and they should be given some flexibility as to what options they choose.

We need a shift in the current paradigm that supports top-down decision-making at the school, district or even state and federal levels. Everyone seems to think they know better than teachers what they need to be able to know and be able to do, but few are actually checking in with teachers to see if they’re right.

Professional development is important, and we all need it order to stay current on our skills, knowledge and classroom practice. At the same time that we need high quality professional development, we also need to advocate for autonomy for ourselves and for our own professional and personal growth. Who knows better than we do where we need to expand our expertise? I would suggest that education professionals should be given that flexibility and that the funding should be made available for individuals to make choices that will benefit them and the students they teach and/or with whom they work. That’s what professional growth is about.


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