Neil Clarke, 2014

Neil Clarke delivered the following remarks upon receiving the Honor Our Own award at the MTA Retired Members Gathering on September 29, 2014. Clarke, who taught in the Lee Public Schools for 34 years, served on MTA’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee. One of Clarke’s former students, Lee Middle School teacher Joshua Hall, nominated him for the award.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Josh, for your thoughtfulness and consideration; thanks for being a PAL, both figuratively and literally, and thank you for taking that creative writing class – looks like those skills must have been put to use here.

It is certainly gratifying to be recognized. Education, as we all know, is truly the great equalizer, and it has been a joy to have been involved in a profession that constantly strives to make the world a better place via both curricular and extracurricular activities, whether formally in a classroom setting or informally as a concerned and caring adult — one student, one class, one lesson plan, one teachable moment at a time.

The joy has come from the chemistry involved in the art of teaching and human interaction – kids and colleagues have a lot to teach us and there are always new lessons to be learned and mysteries to be marveled at. While that joy of making a connection, sharing that “eureka!” moment, has been the goal, I’m sure we all have encountered obstacles that complicate the challenge.

How best to deal with some of those obstacles has been the story of my union career. In my professional journey, a colleague made a connection with me and my peers, guiding us into service at the local level. Attending regional meetings to share experiences and learn from other locals led to making other connections and eventually service on statewide committees and then statewide union governance on both the Board of Directors and Executive Committee and their subcommittees.

Throughout all of these experiences, it was the people I got to know and work with that made the difference. And now, still being involved with the MTA via the Grassroots Campaigns Division, I’m attempting to continue that experience by encouraging members to become part of Legislative and Political Action Teams. One lesson I’ve learned is to connect the dots regarding significant changes to the art and joy of teaching. Those dots often lead to the doors of politicians, through legislation or funding or appointments to boards that dictate to educators. And once again I’ve found the joy of collegiality and helping to achieve positive change.

I hope all of my retired colleagues can find a few hours in their busy schedules during the year to connect with members, to continue the work of improving educational working conditions, which are our students’ learning conditions, as well as improving the conditions of retirees. Thank you and I look forward to continuing the journey with you.