Nicole Disney-Bates, 35, advocates for her fellow special education teachers.
After growing up in Ellicott City, Disney-Bates went to Towson University for psychology and family studies. Then, she furthered her studies at the University of Maryland, College Park for a master’s in education. Now, she works as a special educator in Anne Arundel County.
In August, she will start a new job as the union president for the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.
Disney-Bates and her husband Jerad Bates live with their four children in Baltimore. The family belongs to Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Congregation, and the kids go to Ohr Chadash Academy and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
How did you get involved with the union?
I decided that I didn’t like some of the work that was coming forward for special educators and that somebody needed to speak up. So I started getting people together and we started advocating for ourselves. The presidency involves helping with contract negotiation, contract enforcement and then it also involves helping what we call our members. So, helping our teachers and related service providers enforce their own contracts. Additionally, it involves meeting with politicians. My term is two years long. After that I will reevaluate. I can run for one more term, which would be a three-year term.
Is this something that you’ve always wanted to do?
Actually, no. It was something that I became passionate about after I saw how a unified voice could really make a difference for the teachers.
What did you do as a special educator?
I was a self-contained special educator, so I taught a small group of students who
needed a high amount of individualized specialized instruction. I also taught sixth grade.
We worked on the modified curriculum for them and took data and academic testing. I had always wanted to be a special educator. I went to law school for a bit to become
a special education advocate, and that wasn’t really what I wanted. So then I went to Maryland and got my master’s degree and became a teacher.
How do you feel about starting something new?
Nervous, but very excited. I think that we’re going to
hopefully do some really great things in the next two years and make teachers’ lives better. I will miss my students.
I really enjoyed and enjoy working with middle schoolers. I think they’re a
great group of people, so I will miss that.
How would you describe your relationship with Judaism?
My husband and I are both Modern Orthodox Jews, and we go to shul every Shabbos unless it’s very hot or very cold. To be fair to us, we live about a mile and a half from the shul. Our kids are very active in the shul, and they have a youth group there. They also go to Jewish day school. Judaism is part of me now. It’s the way we eat and what we do every Shabbos. It is my life.
What advice do you have for other professions who are unhappy with how they are treated in their profession?
My advice is that the best way to deal with the problem is to face it head on. If you don’t like the way you are being treated, first talk to the person who isn’t treating you fairly. Sometimes you have a decision to make about whether to stay or go or whether you are capable of making your own change.
What would you like readers to know about your position?
The world really needs teachers, and it is up to us to treat our teachers like the professionals that they are and also to treat them kindly because they really do work quite hard. Sometimes that seems to be a little bit forgotten.
Shira Kramer is a freelance writer.