Susan Cogliano, 2015

Susan Cogliano received the Honor Our Own Award at the 2015 MTA Retired Members Gathering, held on September28. Cogliano spent her teaching career in the Stoughton Public Schools. She served as president of the Stoughton Teachers Association and was a member of the MTA Board of Directors. Current STA President John Gunning nominated Cogliano for the award. Here is the text of her acceptance speech:

Thank you so much for the honor of this award. I would also like to thank President John Gunning and the Stoughton Teachers Association for feeling that I would be worthy of such an award. This is truly an unexpected surprise.

I am so proud to be an educator. As an educator you have the unique opportunity to make a difference in the world. We might never know or see the difference we made, but be assured, it has happened many times over.

My entire teaching career was in Stoughton. I have been so blessed to be part of a wonderful community and school system. It is a community with deep roots and one that values education by providing many opportunities for our students. Our families stay in the town and as a result, many of our students have returned to the schools they loved as teachers today.

Before I retired, I was an integral part of team that identified a need for a school readiness program. The superintendent and I met several times, and using some federal funds, we decided to move forward. We chose The Parent-Child Home Program, which provides low-income families with the necessary skills and tools to ensure their children achieve their greatest potential in school and in life.

By the time the program launched, I was retired but still voluntarily went to New York for the four days of training in the program so that I could continue to help if needed. I am so happy that Stoughton has invested in our youngest residents.

As a middle school science teacher, all that I could ever promise anyone was that I would always do my best, be a caring adult in my students’ lives and always treat my students and colleagues with respect, dignity and compassion. There were times that were a real test, because life in a middle school comes with many unique challenges.

I remember going to our teachers’ meeting and being told by a very caring principal that, “This is a junior high. We must remember all the research shows that there is very little energy for brain growth because most of the body’s energy is going to all the hormonal changes.” Their whole world revolves around their friends and what they think. Be there for your students; make sure they know you care and understand.”

When approached with the idea to run for union president, I was very reluctant but eventually said yes; it certainly removed me from my comfort zone and took me to places that I would not normally have gone.

I was proud to represent the STA and believe that I always put the needs our students and the rights of our members first. I could not have done it alone. We had an incredible leadership team and our very professional and encouraging field rep, Jackie McDonough, brought out the best in everyone.

As retirees, we must stay informed, engaged and connected to our union. In Stoughton, when our friends, past colleagues and members of our local association needed help, the retirees were there.

During a contract crisis in 2014, when the STA asked retired members for help, we wrote an open letter to the citizens of Stoughton in less than 24 hours. Expressing how deeply saddened we were to see all of the turmoil and dysfunction in the Stoughton Public Schools, the letter explained that the School Committee and superintendent in charge then wanted to replace the teachers’ salary schedule with a radically different and lower schedule that would have put Stoughton in a downward spiral. It also stated that the School Committee and superintendent were misleading the public about teacher salaries. So we asked the Stoughton voters to vote for change at the upcoming election. Without exception, the retirees we reached enthusiastically endorsed the letter, and in less than 12 hours, we had over 80 retiree signatures.

The letter was distributed throughout the town; retirees handed out copies of the letter at the schools, posted it on Facebook pages, and sent it to the press. Parents read the letter and remarked over and over that they respected the teachers who taught their sons and daughters. Our retirees made a difference; they had no stake in the game but they were there and ready to support the teachers and the town. The letter was powerful. I believe it changed the election for the good.

As retirees, we are powerful; our voices can be heard, and people listen. So when you leave here today, remember that you can make a difference. Stay involved and engaged for the future generations of our teachers and students.

Thank you, and I hope you all have an enjoyable and inspiring day.