So much more than a long weekend

My experience at the NJEA Convention 

By Cassidy Halligan, Rutgers University, NJEA Preservice member 

Growing up in the public school system, November always felt like one of the shortest months of the school year. Election Day, what my family and friends called “Teacher Weekend,” parent-teacher conferences and Thanksgiving shortened so many school weeks. For me, some years “Teacher Weekend” was a family trip to Disney World. To others, it was just a couple of days at home. As a student, I always saw it as just a break from school. 

As a future educator, I know that the NJEA Convention is more than a break—and after attending for the first time this November, I now understand the true impact of the convention, and of our union.  

I joined NJEA Preservice in March 2023, and as time goes on, I am continuously surprised by the benefits and possibilities that come with being an NJEA member. There are so many opportunities for personal and professional development, and the NJEA Convention has been one of my favorites to date.  

Cassidy Halligan at the NJEA Convention in November. 

Some of the simplest moments, like meeting fellow NJEA Preservice members in person for the first time or hearing anecdotes and advice from teachers, were among my favorites at the convention. Speaking with so many individuals with the same passion for education reminded me why I am going into this profession. It was empowering to be in a place filled with thousands of people who all share that passion. 

While some sessions or booths were not relevant to me yet, as I have yet to begin student teaching, it was so exciting to see all of what is available to me during my career as a teacher. It also made me eager to think about the future.  

I was not surprised that many members were shocked at the presence of so many college students. With the educator shortage, widespread burnout and the consequences of so many social media posts portraying teachers quitting the profession, it is understandable that people were not expecting to see as many passionate college students as there were present. It was refreshing to hear tips and advice from career teachers, and reminders that all the noise will not get to you as much if you focus on your students and remind yourself why you are in the profession. 

I was impressed as well, to see that the NJEA Convention is not just a “teachers’ convention” as so many people mistakenly call it. It was great to see that the convention is also for nurses, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, librarians, aides, counselors and many others.  It takes a lot of different jobs to make our schools work and the convention had something for everyone who works in a public school. 

Beyond the variety of professional development sessions or booths with free swag, I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with members of our union and learning more about membership. I spoke with people from the Early Career Network group, which helped me get a sense how my involvement will grow in the next few years. Preservice members also had the opportunity to have a candid conversation with NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson. I was inspired by her wise words of our leadership. 

Having attended Convention, I now know that it is much more than November’s Teacher Weekend: it is a time to reflect, engage, and even educate ourselves on our profession, which I think is incredibly powerful. As a future educator, I am looking forward to many conventions to come!