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ERIC Number: EJ1104457
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016
Pages: 5
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0148-432X
Looking Back, Looking Ahead: A Reflection on Paraprofessionals and the AFT
Johnson, Loretta
American Educator, v40 n2 p22-26 Sum 2016
In this article, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Lorretta Johnson reflects on her early work as a paraprofessional at Liberty Elementary School (Baltimore, Maryland) and what sparked her union activism nearly 50 years ago in 1966. It was that year that she and her colleagues joined the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU), an AFT affiliate. They negotiated their first contract in September 1970 and achieved the right to due process, to challenge the action, and to have their voices heard. A few years later, there was a change in their union constitution, which set up two chapters: one for teachers and one for paraprofessionals. Each group voted for their president, and Johnson was elected copresident of the BTU, a position she held for 35 years before becoming president of AFT-Maryland for 17 years. Johnson goes on to describe how she became a negotiator for the paraprofessionals, the bargaining sessions she attended and how she learned to demand respect, the toughest contract she negotiated for paraprofessionals (1974), and the toughest contract she helped negotiate for teachers (2010). An opportunity presented itself in 1979, when then-AFT President Al Shanker asked her to represent the AFT on the National Task Force on Paraprofessional Certification, whose purpose was to establish criteria for employment and training of paraprofessionals. The task force focused on paraprofessionals working with special needs students, but Johnson sough to expand this focus to "all" paraprofessionals. More than 30 years later, No Child Left Behind finally set paraprofessional qualification requirements for all instructional paraprofessionals (and such certification is still required today under the Every Student Succeeds Act). In 2008, Randi Weingarten, who was then the president of the United Federation of Teachers and running for president of the AFT, asked Johnson to run as executive vice president. As an AFT Officer, she chaired the AFT's Racial Equity Task Force, which last year published the report "Reclaiming the Promise of Racial Equity in Education, Economics and Our Criminal Justice System." As the AFT celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, Johnson is grateful for all that the labor movement has done for her. The AFT has helped not just Johnson but millions of people in the workplace obtain both job security and the dignity that comes from work. But the AFT can't do it alone. That's why for 40 years she has been actively involved in the The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
American Federation of Teachers. 555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001. Tel: 202-879-4400; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Maryland
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A