Princess Moss flashed on the screen a 36-year-old photo that depicted her as a first-year teacher standing in the classroom next to a boy named Chris.
“I love teaching!” she exclaimed to the room full of educators and would-be teachers as she explained she was imparting a concept to Chris. “I’m thrilled seeing students excel…seeing the light bulb go on in a child’s eyes.”
These days, Moss is far removed from the classroom, but public education is still her passion. This 1983 Mary Washington graduate now works out of an office in Washington, D.C., where she serves as secretary/treasurer of the National Education Association (NEA). She also spends a lot of time on airplanes jetting to places where public school teachers need her voice and her clout.
On Saturday, she appeared at her alma mater’s Stafford campus because students in UMW’s College of Education wanted her to share her experience and her expertise. They were hosting their first student-organized education summit called “What it Takes to Save the Republic.”
Moss praised the Student Education Association’s initiative and ambition. She said to them: “My hope is that you will walk out of here inspired to give your best to the education profession.”
Short of waving pom poms, Moss was a cheerleader for the role most of the people in the room soon would assume. “Our profession creates all other professions,” Moss said. “We are preparing students to be the next generation of leaders.”
It was in her first job, shortly after earning her diploma at Mary Washington, that Moss got a prod to expand the scope of her voice. A music teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in rural Louisa County, Moss said she would sit in the teachers’ lounge and hear her colleagues complain about low salaries, long hours, and other issues. “Have you told anyone who could make things better?” Moss asked. Next thing she knew, Moss was appearing before the Louisa County School Board asking for higher teacher pay.
Now, she not only manages the NEA’s multimillion dollar budget, she flies to Los Angeles, West Virginia, Arizona – wherever teachers collectively feel the sentiment that welled in Moss that day in the teachers’ lounge. “I’m heartened, “she said on Saturday. “Teachers across this nation are finding their voice… they’re saying ‘enough is enough.’” She touted “See Educators Run,” an NEA initiative that encourages teachers to run for public office.
“Who better to make decisions about our children?” asked Moss, who first got involved in her local Education Association; eventually, she rose to the presidency of the 62,000-member Virginia Education Association.
“If we don’t protect and defend our students and give them opportunities to shine,” Moss said, “what is our purpose?” Improving public schools and student outcomes is not just a job for educators, she added. Parents and community members also play an important role, Moss said.
Her philosophy is this: “If you can have an impact on a student, you can have an impact on society.” While she concedes she misses the day-to-day direct contact with students, she is having now a direct impact on society. She continues to get her “teaching fix” every chance she gets.
“You don’t always see immediate results” from classroom experiences, she said, mentioning the student pictured in her first year of teaching. “The Chris-es of the world may surprise you and come back and say ‘Thank you.’” She said she maintains contact with that student of more than three decades ago.
Breakout sessions at the inaugural UMW Student Education Association (SEA) conference included topics related to mental health and dealing with effects of stress and trauma in the classroom.
The student organizers said the idea behind the conference was to bring speakers to the students so they would not have to pay to travel elsewhere for such training. They hope to invite students from other colleges in future years.
As for the ambitious conference name, SEA officer Amani Redic ’19 said they got the idea from a guest speaker at the College of Education who challenged UMW students to “save the republic.”
COE Dean Peter Kelly chimed in: “Who’s going to do it but a teacher?”