The new president of the state teacher’s union is a longtime math teacher. Iowa State Education Association president Chris Bern took over the post in mid-June.
"I have been a high school math and a junior high math teacher for 31 years," Bern says. "I started in Woodbine, Iowa, and spent 11 years there and then moved to Knoxville and have taught there for 20 years."
Bern was elected ISEA president in April at the group’s annual meeting in Ames. He joined the union his first day on the job and soon became the chief negotiator during contracts talks with the Woodbine School District. "I got involved at the local level and then at the…district level and you know, have just been kind of working my way up through the ranks kind of like, never with a goal at the start to become the president of the ISEA," Bern says, "but as things just developed it just seemed like a natural progression."
Bern is currently in Washington, D.C., attending the National Education Association’s annual meeting. Bern says the organization has a "strong" mission and he has no plan to move the ISEA in a dramatically different direction. "You know, I’m just trying to make sure that public education, you know, remains very strong; trying to keep our teachers. We have been very successful in the legislature and like moving our teacher pay to 25th in the nation and making sure we stay there," Bern says. "Professional development is going to be a big issue."
The low pay of "paraeducators" and support staff in schools is another issue the teachers’ union has started highlighting. "Along with the NEA, we’re going to be working on what we call a living wage campaign," Bern says.
Bern is a 1977 graduate of Buena Vista College in Storm Lake. He’s taking a two-year leave from his job as a high school math teacher in Knoxville to serve as ISEA president.