On the Front Lines: Pennsylvania
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- On: 12/08/2020 10:06:47
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Union Engagement Put Math Teacher on Leadership Path in Pennsylvania
Jimbo Lamb had only been teaching for a year when he jumped with both feet into an active role with the Pennsylvania State Education Association. In the midst of difficult contract negotiations, he responded to a call for volunteers, and ended up as the media spokesman during a school strike.
On the Front Lines: Pennsylvania
Union Engagement Put Math Teacher on Leadership Path in PennsylvaniaJimbo Lamb had only been teaching for a year when he jumped with both feet into an active role with the Pennsylvania State Education Association. In the midst of difficult contract negotiations, he responded to a call for volunteers, and ended up as the media spokesman during a school strike.
Now in his eighteenth year as a mathematics teacher in Pennsylvania's Annville-Cleona School District, Lamb is also in his fourth year as the PSEA's southern regional president and in the sixth year on the leadership ladder. He is a strong advocate for students—and for teacher pensions.
“Educators don't go into this profession to get rich,” Lamb said. “We do it to make sure we can help others improve their lives.” Salaries help teachers support themselves and their families, and the promise of a pension makes many tradeoffs worthwhile. “Without that part of our compensation package for our commitment to our students and communities, I am sure many educators would choose a different path.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has made a challenging profession more stressful than ever. Pennsylvania closed all schools last March 13; some systems have since reopened, including the Annville-Cleona area, which is due east of Hershey and the state capital of Harrisburg. At the secondary school in Annville where Lamb teaches, about half the students are attending class in person, while others participate remotely. It takes constant creativity—and lots of extra hours of work—to deliver the curriculum through separate channels.
“We've never had any training that prepared us to teach through a screen,” Lamb said. “It's not what teachers know how to do best, and stress levels are high, but we're doing it.” He credits the school district's administration with stepping up training.
Lamb, who teaches classes in geometry and general math to eighth through eleventh graders, is deeply invested in delivering a positive experience for his students. “I'm redesigning everything for better delivery digitally, and I'm making recordings of all lessons” to ease the strains that the new educational environment has placed on students and parents as well as teachers.
His in-class technique has changed, too. The old system of walking around the classroom and peering over students' shoulders as they work through problems obviously doesn't mesh with social distancing and remote learning. “Now, during instruction I will point out ‘This is where I know you're going to make mistakes.' It takes longer this way,” but it helps the students understand that they're not on their own.
In his role as PSEA's southern regional president, Lamb is responsible for governance of education associations in 10 counties. The southern region is the largest of the PSEA's 11 geographic regions, and second in size only to a statewide “region” for education support professionals such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
One of the many roles of a PSEA region is to help push pension system information out to members, including hosting new member sessions where pensions and other aspects of compensation and benefits are explained.
Like many of his fellow teachers, Lamb was drawn to education early. He had a knack for explaining concepts to his younger sister and to other students. His high school physics teacher, Mr. Seiler, would deliver lectures, then split the class into two sections. He tapped Lamb to reteach concepts to a group of students while others did lab work. “I was able to explain things in ways my peers could understand,” Lamb recalled. “It wasn't until I was a senior that I realized I was teaching.” He went on to earn his bachelor's degree in math education and his master's in instructional technology.
Lamb has been deeply engaged politically, and was a supporter of Elizabeth Warren during the primary. He had the opportunity to question then-candidate Joe Biden when he addressed the National Education Association on July 3 (26 minute mark), and was pleased with President-elect Biden's commitment to national unity. Above all, he is excited by Biden's promise to name an educator as Secretary of Education.
"He definitely knows what educators need, both in the classroom and in the overall school community," Lamb told Education Week. "He's often listened to us and gotten back to us."
You can read our previous On the Front Line series: On the Front Lines: Southfield Public Schools, On the Front Lines: New York City, On the Front Lines: Seattle, On the Front Lines: Fairfax, VA, On the Front Lines: New York, On the Front Lines: Minnesota, On the Front Lines: Washington, and On the Front Lines: Texas.
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