A Q&A with President Linda Hampton

Linda Hampton’s journey to become president of the state’s largest education association is worthy of a Hollywood treatment: Small-town girl rises from the most modest of beginnings to fill one of the state’s most influential leadership positions.

Hampton spent her entire 34-year teaching career in tiny Pleasant Grove, a kindergarten through eighth grade school of about 100 students near Seminole. In her spare time, she devoted her volunteer efforts to the Oklahoma Education Association, holding leadership positions on the local and state level, and served two terms as an NEA Director, sitting on the National Education Association Board of Directors.

Three years ago, she won the OEA vice presidency while her good friend Becky Felts was elected president. But Becky would not finish her term, losing a long battle with cancer in April 2011. Hampton stepped into the president’s office much sooner than she expected, and saddened by the loss of her dear friend.

Hampton completed Felts’ term and was elected to her own three-year term as president in March. She approaches the job of president with a strong determination to represent each member personally, but is modest and self-deprecating when asked about her own achievements. Her first concern is always for the well-being of an organization she has spent her adult life working for and making stronger.

As Hampton begins her first full term as president she answers a few questions about the job, the Association and education in general.

What have you learned, so far, from your experience as OEA president?

“I learned the importance of having a great team. I learned the importance of having a great mentor. Becky was a realist about what was going on with her health. And she always tried to mentor me and prepare me if something should happen. I really appreciated and learned from that.”

Prior to becoming president, you had served OEA as NEA Director and then as Vice President. Was there anything about being the President that you didn’t expect?

“There are several things that are different. When you come from the teaching world, your life is centered on bells that ring and a very rigid schedule. And suddenly, you’re in a world where there are no bells. There are no time limits. There’s not a certain time that my day is over.”

As OEA president, you’ve attended a White House ceremony with President Obama and sat on stage during Vice President Joe Biden’s speech at Representative Assembly. What has been your best moment as president, so far?

“I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of things and meet a lot of people. But the place I get my energy from is when I’m at meetings with our members, and I get to talk to them and hear what’s going on in their world. It just rejuvenates me more than meeting anybody who’s in a certain position. I’d much rather be with our teachers and support professionals.”

What goals do you have for the next three years, your first full term as OEA President?

“I want us to be the strongest, most listened to voice at the capitol. I want us to be the best advocates for our members. I want us to continue to provide quality training for our members. I want us to continue to produce award-winning media campaigns. I want us to grow in the social media world. My goal for us is to take what we have and to continually improve on it. I want to see that our members are proud of their organization.”

How do you approach the job of OEA president, an organization with more than 35,000 members?

“When you’re president, it’s not really about you. It’s about the people that work with you, that get you where you are. It’s about the teachers who are in the classroom every day. They’re the ones who have to work the second jobs. They’re the people who are literally are your inspiration. ESPs are the people who inspire you. Then there is the piece at work when you have a whole team of people dedicated to the same thing, and that means a lot. It’s truly a team effort; it’s not an individual effort.”

What are the biggest changes you see coming for the Association over the next three years?

“Social media is a huge change for the way we do business and the way our members get information. I think we’re going to see that our members expect to receive their information in a different from than what we’ve been doing. I think we’ll see more virtual trainings, and things done online more than face to face because that just seems to be the way all trainings are going.”

Our schools are facing a lot of changes in the next couple of years, namely Common Core and a new evaluation system. What advice do you have for teachers as we incorporate these new systems?

“I think they have to remember they teach for the right reasons – for the kids. The hard part is that, for my entire teaching career, there was some change proposed as the new answer for what’s going to cure public education, as though there was something wrong. So I say, ‘Just hang in there. Do what you do. You’re doing a good job.’ When you’re doing good it’s obvious. It’s going to come across. It might mean more paper work and more time, but it’s happened before and we’ll get through it again.”

Education support professionals play an important role in our schools. What advice do you have for ESPs when it comes to being a member of our association?

"I want our support professionals to know that the role they play in our schools is critical to the success of the whole. Teachers can’t do it alone. It takes an entire team to educate a child."

What advice do you give to a member who wants to get involved in the OEA?

“I taught my entire career in a school with 8.5 teachers. My OEA journey began because someone asked me to go to a meeting. There were teachers from larger schools there, so I thought there was probably a slim chance that voice would be heard. I decided to see just how involved I could get. I think I found the answer to that – you can be as involved as you want to be. It doesn’t really matter what size school you come from, it’s how much you want to be involved, and how much time and effort you want to put in to what we do.”

The NEA RA is in Washington, D.C., every four years, during presidential election years. That always allows for some very impressive guests. What was the highlight of this year’s meeting?

“There were highlights at every session. It’s obviously a highlight when the President of the United States calls in and speaks to the delegates. It was a personal highlight for me when I got to sit on the stage with VP Joe Biden. It’s not so much that I got to sit on the stage, but that OEA got to sit on the stage. It’s an awesome experience to hear the two highest elected officials in our country actually appreciate teachers and not try to lay blame on us."


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