The Early Days of ATPE
Date Posted: 12/02/2015
When I was asked to describe the early days of ATPE, visions of frantic activity immediately appeared in my mind’s eye; I recalled every sort of communication except texts and emails; and I distinctly remember the visceral feeling of wondering if we knew what we were doing. This was a historical moment in the history of teacher associations in Texas, and we could not let the opportunity pass us by. We were always working and hoping for the best outcome for the teachers and the newly-minted association. We pledged that service to our members would guide all actions and deliberations.
We strived to have strategic planning in place at the beginning of the school year by having the newly-elected officers’ retreat right after the Spring Convention. As hard as we tried, sometimes things went awry, as former executive director Mike Morrow would tell you. He still holds it over my head that his president went to sleep right in the middle of a late Friday night session. In my defense, it was after teaching all day before flying to Austin. And in the early days, we didn’t always know what to plan FOR.
There are four major early challenges that come to mind quickly. The first centered mainly on efforts to combine two strong-minded individual teacher associations—the Association of Texas Educators (ATE) and Texas Professional Educators (TPE). Both were extremely good organizations with good leaders and similar principles, but nonetheless, it took some time and skill to mesh them into a cohesive team with one identity. We had to become one family.
Recruiting was the second item on our plate. In order to add to the 18,768 members we started with in 1980, the first issue of ATPE News carried the announcement of ATPE’s creation. It told of the organizing principles, what was offered to members for a greatly reduced membership fee, including the enhanced liability insurance. We informally used the slogan “cheppa dues, betta liability”!! The magazine also carried the logo, created by Judy Coyle and Charles Pickitt, that remained our icon until just recently. The logo consisted of the state of Texas in white, overlaid with the acronym ATPE and surrounded by a red circle that encloses the state. It is circled by 18 stars, one for each of ATPE’s founding members.
I repeat these 18 names, even though you may have seen them before. Those stars represent Judy Coyle, Irving; Patsy Edens, Stanton; Barbara Floyd Stevanson, Austin; Alafair Hammett, Santa Rosa; Rosemary Herod, Fort Worth; John Horn, Allen; Martha Jarvis, Tyler; Jo Ann Manigold, El Paso; Georgia McMeans, Stanton; Charles Pickitt, Richardson; Carol Sandifer, West; Pat Schmoker, Vernon; Glenn Sewell, Dallas; Ben Shilcutt, Fort Worth; Sherilyn Smith, Fort Worth; Floyd Trimble, Dallas; Sally Wiedemann, Vernon; and Fred Wiesner, Waller.
I’m not sure about the rest of these people, but I am just about as proud of being on this list as I am of anything else, even of being on the list of past presidents.
The third item that occupied a huge chunk of time, thought, and money was the effort to achieve a measure of influence, not only with teachers but also with legislators and the Capitol press corps. We used every contact, made every office visit, called every office, and worked our staff to the bone. By the ’83 legislative session, our staff numbered about 10, including major players Jack Martin, Louise Nelson, Annell Todd McCorkle, Kent King, Doug Rogers, and Steve Graham. We did get some recognition with H. Ross Perot, who had been appointed by Gov. Mark White as the chairperson of the Select Committee on Education. Our staff and I met with him as he studied the reform recommendations that eventually became House Bill 72.
The ultimate “problem” we dealt with in the early years was our quick growth. But oh how thankful we were for that problem. We outgrew two office spaces and moved into a third one by the time of my presidency. The new space allowed for an in-house printing press and a new computer system. National education newspapers were recognizing our ATPE News. We were moving on up! The membership that began with nearly 19,000 now stood at 37,000.
Not exactly the same list you would get from a recent past president if asked what their term has been like, huh? But I can assure you there are similarities. We’re still working to keep factions together; recruit through our publications; establish and maintain relationships with legislators and media; and manage, maintain, and serve the growth of our organization.
Reminds me of a time I spoke to textbook publishers during a Proclamation Hearing for textbook adoption. I was last on the list of speakers, it had been a long day, and I needed to get their attention.
I recited a story from Elizabeth Taylor’s seventh marriage. On the eve of their wedding night, Richard Burton said to her, “Elizabeth, I know what I am here for, I just don’t know if I can make it interesting!”
And that, my friends, is what every president has to keep to do. Each term, the tasks seem to be the same—the challenge is to make it interesting!
—Sally Wiedemann, ATPE past president, 1982-83
Learn more about ATPE’s 35-year history in the Winter 2015 issue of ATPE News.