By Jean Conley
M TA member Saul Ramos, the 2017 National Education Support Professional of the Year, brought his fellow NEA
delegates to their feet — and many to tears —
as the Worcester paraeducator and self-taught
Braillist delivered a heartwarming and passionate
speech during the RA.
“My fellow delegates to this Representative
Assembly, it is more important than ever for all of
us to unite and support public education,” Ramos
declared on July 3 to the thousands of educators
attending the event, which was held in Boston.
“We must all stand strong together and let our
elected leaders know what we need as educators to
nurture successful students,” he continued.
Ramos thanked the leadership of the NEA
and the MTA, his local association and his many
union mentors, as well as his colleagues, family
members and friends.
He acknowledged the quiet strength of
his mother, and he recognized Keefe Bangert,
a teacher of the visually impaired and fellow
member of the MTA and the Educational
Association of Worcester.
The two have worked closely together for 18
years, educating visually impaired students in the
Worcester Public Schools.
Bangert, Ramos noted, made many of the
materials that he used when he became interested
in learning Braille.
Ramos spoke with equal warmth about one of
his students, Thien Nguyen, whose success story,
he said, “is one of my favorites.”
“At an early age, Thien faced the kind of
obstacles that would make most of us here today
feel overwhelmed — maybe even defeated,”
Ramos said. “But Thien has something special
inside that compels him to look at his challenges a
Ramos said Thien has never seen the
trials of his life as stopping points, but rather as
steppingstones. Born three months prematurely
and legally blind, Thien was given little chance of
survival. But his parents demanded that Thien be
kept on oxygen, “and their baby boy survived,”
Ramos said. “Today, his incredible story is being
shared with 7,000 educators.”
When Ramos started working with Thien, the
student sat in the back of the classroom, isolated
from the rest of the students. “But the more time
I spent with him, the more he trusted me, and
the more he trusted me, the more he opened up,”
“Today, I’m proud to say that Thien needs
only minimal assistance,” he continued. “Thien
has taught us all what it means to have the
audacity to hope and believe that nothing is
Ramos continued, “Some call what I do a job.
Others say it’s a career. But I have always believed
that what I do is a calling. You see, when you have
a calling, you don’t ask the world what it needs.
You instinctively go and do what makes you come
R amos acknowledged the “countless other inspiring and amazing educators” he has worked with over the years, as well as
those he has met through the NEA.
Ramos said that includes ESPs such as “Tim
Bell, from Utah, a custodian who did everything
he could to ensure the safety of his students.”
“He would arrive hours before his start time
just to open the doors for students who were
dropped off early and had no place to go,” he said.
“And there’s Marty Alvarez from Traverse
City, Michigan,” added Ramos. Alvarez is “a bus
driver who goes far beyond what is asked of her.
She makes sure her students get safely to and from
school, has books for them to read, holds spelling
bees, and has snacks for them.”
This past winter, he said, Alvarez noticed
how many of her younger students had no socks,
so she held a sock drive, gathering thousands of
“I have learned that leadership is taking what
is given to you and moving it forward,” Ramos
said. “Leadership is not a big or fancy title, and
it doesn’t start on the stage. It starts off way in
the back … in ordinary places, often with small
“This is the story of our ESP members. We
don’t choose which students we work with. We
don’t select and disregard the rest — we take the
students we are given and pour our hearts and
souls into their lives.”
Ramos shared with the crowd that a few
years ago, he was diagnosed with glaucoma. “My
doctor explained that through treatment, it could
be controlled, but that nothing was guaranteed and
one day, I might lose my sight,” he said.
“That moment revealed to me why it is so
important to have a calling in your life,” Ramos
said, “because when you have a calling, there
are no real setbacks or obstacles, policies or
politicians that can get in your way.
“I may lose my sight, but I will never lose my
vision for my students and for public education.
“Vision is unlimited. Vision is discovering
something to die for, not live for,” he said. “Vision
clarifies your purpose, empowers your direction,
and makes you believe in a better world.”
“Friends, we must:
“Always have hope.
“See ourselves and our students as the
winners that we are.
“Know beyond any doubt that if we are
united, if we work together — nothing is
impossible and everything is possible.
“Our hearts and spirits are in the right place. We
are full of passion and purpose and we will continue
to work together to make a difference in the lives of
our students and the future of our nation.”
labor movement that NEA state affiliates were
involved in from coast to coast.
The victory over Question 2 was national news
last fall, especially since it was a bright spot on a
night that also included the election of Republican
Donald Trump as president.
Dismay and anger over the policies of Trump
and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were
expressed by several speakers during the RA session
in which the video was shown.
But educators from Massachusetts and other
NEA affiliates also made it clear that they were ready
to fight back — and to stop the Trump/DeVos agenda
in its tracks.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García noted
as part of her speech to RA delegates during the
morning that the defeat of Question 2 was an
example of how to exercise union power and build
coalitions that can act successfully to protect public
“All year long, you’ve been using the power of
our collective voice to fight and to win,” Eskelsen
García said. “Right here in Massachusetts, the MTA,
with an amazing coalition of true believers in public
education, fought back an initiative on unaccountable
charter expansion — and you won!”
Continued from previous page
Defeat of charter school initiative featured as example of collective power
NEA ESP of the Year Saul Ramos, a
Worcester paraeducator, gave a heartfelt
address during the RA in Boston.