NJSEA’s Megan Namnama has declared her candidacy for the NEA Student Program Chairperson position. If elected, Namnama will represent thousands of pre-service (student) teachers throughout the country. To read more about what her colleagues and friends have to say about her, you can view this here.
INTERVIEWER: What inspired you to run to NEA Student Program Chairperson?
NAMNAMA: I actually first heard about the position back in April 2015 and did some research. It sounded like such a great position and going to the NEA SLC in Orlando made me realize that even though I graduate this spring from Montclair [State University], my work is not going to be done with the NEA Student Program. I decided to run because I want to keep doing this kind of work- this kind of advocacy- not only for the students in the classrooms, but also for our pre-service educators.
INTERVIEWER: This next one is more about you as a person. Some would say you can’t separate who you are as a person from who you are as an educator or a leader. So, who are you as a person?
NAMNAMA: I think one thing that stands out about me the most is that no matter what I’m doing I am always an artist. I have been involved in dance, choir, band, you name it; so when it comes to doing advocacy work, I find that I am able to find a creative path to something. It gives me a unique perspective.
INTERVIEWER: Should you be elected NEA Student Program Chair, what is your vision for the future of the program?
NAMNAMA: Chelsey Herrig has really done a great job with the program. Something I would want to really focus on during my term would be state-to-state engagement. We have done a really great job of connecting on webinars and conference calls and such, but one thing I want to definitely incorporate more of is the opportunity for state presidents to meet in person. This form of communication would really help foster a sense of togetherness.
INTERVIEWER: As a former chapter president, and a NJSEA Chair/Ambassador, I think that would be a really awesome opportunity.
NAMNAMA: I agree. As the Student Program, we truly accomplish a lot. One of my favorite things [about the student program] is getting to know everyone across the U.S. as we do this work, so it would be really nice to have an opportunity for us all to sit down and get to know each other as leaders in pre-service education.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a great idea. It makes so much sense, because sometimes it feels like individual programs, but the feeling of a cohesive strong unit would be nice.
NAMNAMA: I think it should be happening; we’re moving in that direction. We could learn a lot from each other. Another thing I’d really like to keep building upon with the student program is our political action component. We’ve done a really great job the past few years with the Degrees Not Debt, including more members in the NEA and getting them more involved. I want to push that a little bit more.
INTERVIEWER: As NEA Student Program Chair, you will lead thousands of pre-service educators across the country. So, how would you describe your leadership style?
NAMNAMA: One thing I really like about NEA is the various leadership opportunities they have specifically for the student program. Whether it be Resolutions Committee, Advisory Committee, Election Committee, or Board of Directors, it shows that the organization really believes in our potential and our leadership. My leadership style really thrives on all of these leaders, because one of my strongest traits [as a leader] is I really believe in the people I am leading. It’s a team effort.
INTERVIEWER: Can you give us an example?
NAMNAMA: Sure, at Montclair [State University], where I am our chapter president, I love being able to sit at a table with my executive board members and say, “Hey, how is everyone doing?” and really get the conversation going because really, I think being a leader is continuously having a conversation between all the members and making sure they’re having their voices heard.
INTERVIEWER: I think most of us can agree that as pre-service educators we have a unique perspective and set of skills that can assist us and have inspired us to pursue a career in education. What would you say has inspired you to pursue a career in education?
NAMNAMA: So what really encouraged me to go into the classroom is definitely- 100%- the teachers I had throughout my education, the extracurricular activities, and dance lessons- the list goes on. They’ve inspired me to share my love for dance in a way that encourages others to explore it [dance] as well. It’s a really cool thing to be able to say not only am I a good dancer, but I can also show you how to become one, too. I absolutely love that.
INTERVIEWER: I’ve been informed that you have been involved in previous political campaigns and components of education. Would you care to elaborate?
NAMNAMA: Sure! I didn’t realize what big of a step I was taking and how important that step was. I actually got involved with political campaigning back in 2012; it was my senior year of high school. I got involved with a reelection campaign for Congressman Bill Pascrell, a former history teacher. It seemed like something totally different that I’d never done before, so I got involved in that campaign and I absolutely loved it. It was door-to-door canvassing and teaching people who he was, and what he stood for. I thought it was so cool because I was helping other people understand, even if they weren’t going to vote for him, and that’s what I loved about that. Later on, I worked on President Obama’s reelection campaign, Senator Nia Gill’s reelection campaign in Montclair, and Congressman Frank Pallone’s campaign. It’s been a really great experience being able to encourage people to go out and activate their voice and help them understand who these people are and why they should learn about them. Most recently, I worked for the New Jersey Education Chair, Assemblyman Patrick Diegan and Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin. I will carry this leadership experience with me if I’m elected, but also for the rest of my life. I didn’t know what big of a step I was taking, but it’s been a great run!
INTERVIEWER: How has that impacted your time in NJSEA?
NAMNAMA: What was really cool about NJSEA this past year was that I was given the opportunity to be the organization’s Political Action Chair, which has given me a dream opportunity to help, not just anybody, but pre-service educators understand elections, political advocacy, and why it’s so important. I absolutely love it because not only do I get to talk about something that extremely important, but I get to talk about it with my friends, and other public education advocates. It’s been a really great thing, a great addition to our student program.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve just mentioned quite a bit. What would you consider to be the highlight of your pre-service career?
NAMNAMA: My favorite part [of my pre-service career] was student teaching because I realized within a week that I was absolutely in the right field. My cooperating teachers were so supportive, as was the education program at Montclair [State University], and I just felt so ready. It felt so right to be with my students each day; it was such a great experience. I really thank Montclair [State University] and NJSEA because without their support and the opportunities they have given me through professional development and networking I don’t think I would have felt so immediately sure of myself and my future profession.
INTERVIEWER: Next year, while a new individual settles into the NEA Student Program Chair position, a new politician will be living in the White House ready to lead our country. What about your personality and leadership style makes you confident you will be able to communicate the needs of pre-service educators well, despite possible changes in Washington?
NAMNAMA: It’s extremely important that we as the Student Program elect someone who is not afraid to voice- not what they [the individual] stands for- but what the collective student union stands for. I know Chelsey has reached out numerous times over the past couple months to the Advisory Committee, which I sit on, about different topics we need to vote on. I don’t think she’s voted a single time without asking us about our opinions and what we think as student members. To be able to not only understand what’s going on in the White House, but go back to your people and say, “Hey. This is coming up. How do we feel about this? I’m going to vote how we feel as a whole,” and then vote based on that discussion. You need to listen to your members and take their voices to the White House. I believe 100% in our pre-service educators and the strength and leadership already embedded within our members. I promise I will serve the program and its members with this same mindset. That’s the most important thing.
INTERVIEWER: Which pillar of NEA do you feel most passionate about? Why?
NAMNAMA: I’d have to say political advocacy. While our three pillars are all extremely important, this is what I feel most passionate about, because as a whole I feel as though we [student members] don’t know much about this particular focus. Political action and advocacy is an extremely important and underrated role that plays into our lives 100%, both in and out of the classroom. It’s extremely important that, as pre-service educators, we understand the importance of our actions and the successes that can come due to our activism.
INTERVIEWER: I think you are very right; in my experience, politics is something most people feel more uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, so that’s definitely something to look into. Would you be able to give an example of when you have demonstrated each of the other pillars (Community Outreach, Teacher Quality)?
NAMNAMA: One of the biggest community outreaches I’ve done was starting the chapter at Montclair [State University]. I started it because I signed up online and then attended a regional meeting in Northern New Jersey. The way these [NJSEA] ambassadors talked about how important this cause is made me wonder, “Why isn’t this on my campus? Why aren’t we getting involved in this extremely important organization?” From there, I organized my campus to get involved and become active in NJSEA. One of the ways I have encouraged teacher quality is when I applied to the NEA Advisory Committee of Student Members. The only true way we can have really engaged teachers is by getting them involved before they even enter the classroom. Being on the Advisory Committee allows me to see all aspects of a topic and be involved not only on a state, but also on a national level, which connects me to the issues going on in every state across the country. It encourages and brings about a type of a really driven, active educator, which is vital to the success of our profession.
INTERVIEWER: All candidates obviously believe they would be the best person for the role; why do you think you would best serve the pre-service community?
NAMNAMA: I believe I am the best candidate for Chairperson because I am honestly willing- and wanting- to listen to everyone’s stories and concerns to see where everyone’s at and how people feel. I don’t think this is a position that should just be handed to the person who believes they have the most leadership and experience, but instead the person who is going to be here for the long haul and can say, “For the next two years I will give you my all, but after that I will continue to be an advocate for public education throughout the country.” I am driven and extremely committed to the pre-service educators who are currently with us and yet to come. I look forward to serving our members now and in the near future. So, bring it on!