An Iowa native who has risen to become vice president of the National Education Association says the teacher’s union gets a bad rap.

Dennis Van Roekel says some conservatives do give his organization a lot of grief. But he says “a lot” of conservatives support the N-E-A. “I think they see within the National Education Association that we do advocate for children,” Roekel says. “(Conservatives) don’t always agree with each and every position we take or tactic but I think they recognize that the people who are our members and what they do each and every day is work with children each and every day, and that’s important.”

Van Roekel says teacher pay must be raised to attract college students into the profession, and pushing for higher salaries is the N-E-A’s top goal. Van Roekel says you can’t compete by continually lowering salaries or keeping them low. He says educating children is an important an occupation that should get more financial resources from state and local sources.

Van Roekel was born in LeMars and grew up in the Fort Dodge and Manson areas. He graduated from the University of Iowa and his first classroom job was in Muscatine, where he taught high school math.

According to Van Roekel, Iowa’s challenge will be attracting new people into the teaching profession and retaining the teachers already employed in Iowa schools with teacher salaries that are continually sinking when compared to other states.

Van Roekel left Iowa years ago to teach school in Phoenix. Van Roekel was elected vice president of the N-E-A in 2002. He was in Des Moines last night to speak at a banquet.