Women Win: Tammy Wawro, President of the Iowa State Education Association
For the first time in Iowa’s history, two women — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Judge — will occupy the top of the Democratic ticket this November. And in many districts across the Hawkeye State, Iowans will have the opportunity to vote for women Democratic candidates for several offices at the top of the ticket. That’s why we’re launching Women Win, a campaign to help empower women across the state to talk about the historic nature of this election — and to recognize the amazing women of Iowa’s past, present, and future. Keep your eyes on our Twitter, Facebook, and Medium to learn their stories, then join in on our efforts.
“I was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. My mother died when I was young, and I was raised by my father and my two brothers, so it was a very heavily male-dominated world at home. I went to school in one of the first English Language Learner elementary schools in the state, back when Robert Ray was the governor. So I was surrounded by diversity early on.
I watched my brothers and my dad play ball and be successful and I knew I could do that, but they really did raise me as a girl. They did the very best they could, but it was different. I put myself through college, went to Kirkwood Community College, and I got married really young and had my first son when I was 20 years old. I needed help from different entities, and that help is what got me through Kirkwood.
Kirkwood helped me realize that I needed to go the University of Northern Iowa, but community college gave me the support I needed for my young son. I was a single mom by the time I was attending the University of Northern Iowa, and I will never forget what drove me to get into teaching.
During my first year of teaching, I joined the union. I had been a student member at UNI because I had a professor at UNI who said, ‘You’re going to work with children. This is your professional organization. Join.’ I’ve been a member ever since.
I’ve now been married for 25 years, and we have two other boys. I have been surrounded by men my whole life and someone once asked me, ‘You’re in a labor union, aren’t you kind of scared to get up and talk at the labor caucus meeting at the state convention?’
And I said, ‘I’m the mother of three boys and I was raised by wolves. You can’t scare me.’
I always knew that I just wanted to make this world a better place. I knew that as a little girl going to school, my place was where I saw women being strong. My teachers are who I looked up to. That’s what I had, as far as women role models, and I wanted to be a teacher.
My first year of teaching was tough in terms of unfair professional practices. I saw a principal unfairly get run out of her job. I spoke at a school board meeting in the second-largest district in the state as a first-year teacher on behalf of this principal, and I walked away from that saying, ‘I will never be in a situation in which someone doesn’t have my back.’ She had no union and no organization — and she was totally on her own.
I saw the power that an organization could bring doing the right things in support of each other. That changed my life. After knowing what the union has done for women, for children, and for our communities, I’m sad that more people don’t understand the history of what unions have done for the United States.
About ten years later, I became the president of our local in Cedar Rapids. Soon after I was on the bargaining team, and I would always question decisions by saying, ‘Is this good for kids?’ My bargaining team wanted to go about our decision-making the same way, and that philosophy carried through our local and on up to the state level. That’s the platform I ran on — if we can’t come back and say that what we’re doing is good for kids in some way, shape, or form, then we are not doing the right thing.
Hillary has talked about taking care of kids since her early years of giving back to the community. So I have always been drawn to her for that reason. What Hillary has said she would do is listen to educators that are in the field — those who work with students every day — which is what we have been missing. We’re missing that in our state, we have missed that in our nation. We have not been listened to.
One of the first things Hillary did, after the NEA came on board with the campaign, was send one of her chief policy advisors, Ann O’Leary, to travel and listen to teachers. Ann went with me, to small district to small district, classroom to classroom, meeting with members, and she just listened. She asked educators what they needed, asked them about different policies without being a policy wonk. Since that time, I have heard Secretary Clinton speak the words that our members in Iowa shared with her policy advisor. I have such great faith that same practice will continue when she is president of the United States. Our members have never had that opportunity before and more importantly, our students have never had that opportunity before!
Last year we had our first grandson and just recently, I became grandmother to a little girl. I’ve always grown up around men, and I’ve raised boys throughout my life. We’ve told all our children you can be anything you want to be, and my new granddaughter is now going to grow up in a world and actually see that she can be president.
It’s absolutely crucial that we elect Hillary Clinton as our next president.”
Tammy Wawro, a teacher on release from Cedar Rapids, was elected the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) President in April 2012 and reelected to a second term in April 2015. In 1999, she received her National Board Certification. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Northern Iowa in 1995, a master’s degree in educational technology in 2002, and her EdD in Teacher Leadership from Walden University in 2015.