As I’m sure you’re aware, the President of NJSEA leads the organization and works with a large plethora of people. Could you please describe your leadership style?
ELLEN BACON: This is something I’m looking forward to about the upcoming year if elected. I’m looking forward to stepping into a more union-based leadership style. NJSEA is a part of the union, so I want to see us with increased leadership in that aspect, like being on more NJEA committees. I don’t ever want to be the type of leader that stands in front of everyone giving orders. Instead, I want to be the type of leader that is taking from different sources, pulling ideas together and collaborating to create a better future for everyone as a whole.
MARIAH BELBER: My leadership style is definitely collaborative. I know that there are always people in the room who have knowledge I don’t, experiences I don’t; I can work with as many people as possible from many different positions and backgrounds to increase the engagement of members and create events that work for them and that they want to come to.
SAMANTHA SELIKOFF: My leadership style is that I always try to incorporate as many people as I can, such as the ambassadors, and gather their ideas to hear diverse opinions when making a decision. Everyone comes from a different perspective, so it’s good to get feedback from different places. Then I will also be able to help people who have questions with their assignments, and I’m not afraid to ask people who have gone through it before for advice in order to get the best possible results.
What is something new you are hoping to bring to NJSEA?
BACON: I think I want to continue on the path we’re on. Our current president, Hannah, has gone above and beyond for this organization. I look forward to increased collaboration with the NJEA and more presence on campuses around the state, especially community colleges. That’s something I really look forward to tackling in the upcoming year. It’s something I don’t think we’ve fully, 100% accomplished this year to the extent that we wanted to, so I’d like to extend that goal into next year, as well.
BELBER: Something I really would like to do is connect more with on-campus chapters. Sometimes, it seems there can be a disconnect with smaller chapters with fewer ambassadors that are maybe just starting out. I’d reach out more to connect them with larger chapters and the state as a whole, making sure they know what’s happening at a state level. Sometimes, people don’t know what’s happening at the state level until they are told about it. I think this might help fix that.
SELIKOFF: This past year, we focused a lot on political action and teacher quality, with the lobbying days and making the counties such an important part of the program, offering those professional developments. I think community outreach is also really important. What I would do is create more community outreach days such as Read Across America, which is already a really big part of the NEA, but also things related to Earth Day, and possibly more events like food drives. I’d add some more of that to connect better with our community.
Could you give an example of an idea you implemented on a state or local level? How did you go about it?
BACON: I’ve collaborated at Seton Hall [University] to create our schedule for this past year. We’ve done multiple events for our members. I’m not somebody who is like an “idea-only” person. I’m more of a person willing to work in a group of people and build upon ideas. I bring up various ideas, and even if they’re not implemented, sometimes they lead to other developments. I think this is the best way to create something really great for members. I encourage other and their ideas and look forward to increased communication with my chapter, and on the state level, in order to determine the best options for our organization.
BELBER: I’m sure you know about the ability to attend full-time member professional development at the county level. This was something that was talked about at a workshop at the NEA SLC [National Education Association Summer Leadership Conference] that I went to last summer. I said to [current NJSEA President] Hannah, “Why don’t we do this?” So we contacted a lot of the local and county associations of NJEA and they were very excited to have us come in. I know my local, near my home, a lot of the members were unaware of NJSEA. Getting our name out there so NJEA can see there are so many pre-service members excited about their field was a great experience. The full time members enjoyed seeing pre-service members attending events and it’s also great for us because we get some great professional development opportunities.
SELIKOFF: Well, this year I was appointed as the NJSEA Relations Chair. That connected our members with committees and county associations. I went around to all the different people at the Convention needed for this, which is how I ended up planning the Awareness Fair. I also went to affiliate meetings and was in communication with those, such as a Council of Exceptional Children workshop that I was able to open up to our members. I also was able to open up county events to members through this same method. I think members benefitted a lot from these additional opportunities.
Why are you an education major?
BACON: This is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I was actually let into kindergarten early, so I was younger than the other kids. They [school personnel] were a little skeptical at first, but they immediately knew I was ready to go to school. Now I think I’ve kept that momentum going; I’m always ready to go to school. The school system is the place for me. As a child, I’d go home and play school, “grade” papers, and create a math test to do “for fun.” Now, obviously, things have changed. But, I’m an education major because there’s nothing else for me. Luckily, I found at a young age what I was put on this earth to do.
BELBER: Honestly, I grew up with a lot of cousins, so I was always surrounded by a lot of younger kids. From as far back as I can remember, we would play school and I would always be the teacher. I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do. I chose special education because I have two cousins on the Autism Spectrum, and seeing my cousin who is nonverbal be able to communicate with me and give me a high five, just even tell me he is having a good day was incredible. That was an amazing experience for me and I want to do that for other families and students.
SELIKOFF: I’m an education major because teachers can have a large impact on students without even realizing it. Educators play such a large role in the lives of children, because you never know who you may have in your classroom, or what the students will accomplish. You don’t know whose life you may touch or who you might inspire through teaching, but you know you will definitely change lives and impact children.
What would you say was the most important lesson you learned through a field placement?
BACON: Over-plan. I just do it all the time in my life now. Over-plan and be able to bounce back from mishaps. I remember the first lesson I ever taught in the field through a placement, the aide in the room actually told me it was a disaster. But, the bell rang and it was time for period two. It taught me- from my very first lesson- that each period is a fresh start and you’ve just got to run with that fresh start; we move on from things that don’t quite go our way. We over-plan because not everyone is the same and we need to differentiate to make sure everyone can learn effectively and gets the proper education they are entitled to.
BELBER: I’m currently at a practicum in a school right now, and through this experience I’ve learned it’s very important to advocate for your students. There are students who are struggling and need accommodations and services, but haven’t been evaluated yet. It’s important that, as educators, we advocate for their needs, and when they have an IEP, that we advocate for their lawful rights.
SELIKOFF: I think that the best lesson that I’ve learned through my field placements is to not be afraid to take initiative; to go ahead and take that leap if you don’t see something in the classroom that you’d like to see. In one of my past practicums, the students were learning about the Holocaust and they were reading Number the Stars. We were doing interviews in our history class, so I reached out to the Holocaust Museum in Cherry Hill and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) to see if they had anyone they could send to the class for interviews. They ended up sending three speakers, and the children were so engaged and interested. I took initiative and wasn’t afraid to take that extra step. Just like anything, even within NJSEA, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to not be afraid to put your own twist on it and always take initiative.
What would your friends or professors say about your character? How would they describe you as a person?
BACON: They would probably say that I am passionate. They can see this is the field I intend on making my life’s work and I don’t vary from that. In class, I am very participatory; I get this excitement about topics and I want to analyze the material. If anything, I’m very vocal and excited to learn. I’m very passionate about education and what I do.
BELBER: They would definitely describe me as an overachiever. I tend to walk into a project and take it “head-on.” I actually walked into an event for a club I am now co-president of, and was made treasurer within ten minutes of being at the event. That’s just who I am. They would also say I’m organized. My organization style helps me manage my time, because the five-year program I’m in is a lot to balance along with all of my NJSEA ambassador responsibilities. But because I’m so organized, I’m able to manage my time well. My professors would definitely say I am passionate. I am in the special education program at TCNJ and I’m currently helping plan my third Autism Week at my school. I’m very passionate about what I do.
SELIKOFF: I think they’d describe me as passionate, creative and outgoing. They’d say passionate because I put 110% into everything I do. If I’m going to do something, I make sure I do it the correct way, whether that means asking for help if I need it, or taking appropriate steps independently. Creative would be another word people would use to describe me because I take initiative and come up with different solutions that other people might not have thought of originally. I’m also outgoing because, like I said, I’m very involved on [TCNJ] campus, with many organizations such as NJSEA, KDP (Kappa Delta Pi), and Teachers of Young Children. I’m not afraid to put myself out there, just like I did to open county associations to our members through reaching out to the affiliate groups.
Why do you think you are a good fit for this position? What has prepared you or what skill set do you possess?
BACON: I think I’m the best person for this position, truly in my heart, I think I am best for this organization. I have Executive Board experience, because I was secretary this past year. I have experience with my chapter, and with other chapters that I’ve collaborated with as Seton Hall’s co-president this past year. I helped organize regional meetings, so I also have experience with that. I also think especially with the ambassador team, and interacting with them as part of the E-Board, it prepared me to further propel the organization forward. I really feel I’m best for this position in order to keep the organization moving because of my level of experience.
BELBER: I think I’m a good fit because of my passion for NJSEA. I joined the organization to go to Convention my freshman year and was at the registration booth talking to Hannah [Pawlak]. Marguerite walked over and introduced herself to me and now I can’t imagine my life in college without NJSEA. It’s become such a big part of my life, so I really want to see it succeed and grow. This year we hit 1,000 members, and next year I’d like to aim even higher. NJSEA has been such a big part of my college career and I want to see it succeed and grow as much as possible, which is what you need in a president. My leadership style is also very collaborative, and I’d love to get to work with the leadership team. My role as an ambassador has actually taught me a lot about myself as a leader and I just want to keep working with this amazing group of people.
SELIKOFF: I’ve grown a lot through the organization and it has definitely made my college experience worthwhile, exciting and enjoyable. I started with NJSEA my freshman year and I can honestly say my college experience wouldn’t have been the same without it. I’d be a good fit for NJSEA President because of the work I’ve done this year being NJSEA Relations Chair and Convention Chair. I’ve been able to organize different people and see who I think fits best in what position and with which responsibilities. I’ve created more opportunities for members, like county events and the Awareness Fair. I am also part of the organizing fellowship with the NEA, which also helps with the position of President, because I was able to learn multiple ways to grow membership and I’ve seen it work at TCNJ.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there anything else you want members to know about you?
BACON: I think just that I’m very honored for this opportunity. I’m excited to move forward and this experience in general is very motivating, especially after being elected as NJSEA Secretary last year. We all know NJSEA stands for teacher quality, but also from the political action stance, and community outreach, I’ve grown so much through NJSEA as a professional and a person. There are things I am so excited to do and accomplish throughout the next year, and I would just be so honored if people granted me this opportunity.
BELBER: I just want to reiterate the fact that NJSEA has been a huge part of my college career. It’s been an amazing experience and I want to get as many pre-service educators involved as possible so they can get out of NJSEA what I have. It’s a pretty scary time to go into education, but seeing all the support offered through the union and your peers makes it less scary. You have such a great support system with NJSEA.
SELIKOFF: Just that, like I said, I really enjoy being part of the organization. It has helped me grow and I would like to continue to help members and bring new things to NJSEA that will benefit the organization. I would be honored to be NJSEA President of the 2016-2017 year.
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As the preservice branch of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), we aspire to empower, excite, and inspire all future educators about their upcoming teaching careers in public education.
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