It’s been a little more than a year since our lives were turned upside down by COVID-19. Before March 2020, few among us would ever have believed we’d be looking back now upon the most challenging time of our lives. Emotionally, physically, financially and even politically, the pandemic has shaken our world to the core.
On a personal level, too many of us have dealt with tragic losses from the deadly virus.
Professionally, nearly all of us have been impacted by difficult and ever-changing work conditions created by the necessary shuttering of school buildings and offices; we have been required to learn new technologies and strategies to help ensure we could effectively work or teach remotely, which often dramatically increased our workloads. At the same time, many of the parents among us have also juggled helping our kids navigate COVID-related changes while attending school online at home. Let me tell you, it was hard to see my 17-year-old son lie in bed and “do school” remotely! And we had it easy compared to many. The struggle was real!
Thankfully, we’re finally seeing some light at the end of the long, dark pandemic tunnel. While we are not out of the woods, vaccines and safety practices are making a difference and glimpses of “normalcy” are slowly emerging in our workplaces and communities. I’m certain I am not alone in feeling a sense of relief and hope for the brighter days to come.
Perhaps what is most exciting to me, though, is the intense and overwhelming sense of pride I’m feeling – pride in our members and our unions.
During these unprecedented times over these many months, I’ve been truly awed by each and every one of you. Every IFT member – whether a K-12 teacher, PSRP, higher education faculty or staff member, or state employee – has boldly stepped up to meet the challenges presented to you. You have shown your communities and our state that your work is invaluable and your dedication is unparalleled. Our cities, towns, and state could not have made it through these difficult days without your commitment and professionalism. You kept this state running and Illinois’ students learning, no matter what obstacles were laid in your path or what sacrifice was required.
Together in your local unions and councils, you absolutely SHINED. Across our state, IFT members and leaders came together to fight for and support students, Illinoisans, and each other. In places where employers tried to rush a return to in-person work despite the science, you put your collective foot down. You stood up for the best interests of kids, communities, and your own families to demand that health and safety be prioritized above all else. I am convinced that these efforts helped prevent greater transmission of the virus in our state.
Your struggles not only helped to save lives, they inspired others. During the last year, hundreds of new members have united with their colleagues and joined the IFT family. From comedy educators at The Second City to part-time clerical professionals in Skokie (see related article, page 3), our union has seen phenomenal growth since last year because you have demonstrated the true meaning of solidarity and its role in advancing the greater good.
As your president, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to shepherd these efforts and ensure you were supported by the IFT every step of the way.
As we look to the fall, I know the pandemic will continue to factor into our lives and workplaces. But if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that there is absolutely nothing that we can’t tackle – and overcome – when we do it together in our unions. NOTHING.
I couldn’t be more proud to work alongside you. Thank you and have a wonderful summer!