Bittersweet ending…it is the sweet that drives us: editorial by UEA President Heidi Matthews

(Note: Heidi’s final term as UEA president ends in July 2022)

To each and every member of the Utah Education Association,

Try as I might, I just can’t seem to find the words to convey just the right message to you as I near the end of my second term and pass the baton to President-Elect Renee Pinkney on July 15.

Serving as your UEA president has been the honor – and joy – of my life, both professionally and personally. And yet. The experience of six years serving as your UEA president is a lot more nuanced, and what seemed to confront me in these final months is such a mix of emotions that the only word that comes close is ‘bittersweet.’

The bitter is filled with regrets of what wasn’t accomplished, those great plans that were revised or tossed because some of them weren’t that great to begin with – or things got in the way…like a global pandemic. The bitter is the sadness of how YOU have been impacted and stretched so thin, of the great losses for our students and our own families. The bitter is the hammering of power structures that put up roadblocks and of our own internal divisions that have intensified like those reflected in the rest of the nation.

Like you, I am exhausted.

Like you, being an educator is not just what I do, it’s who I am.

We just don’t give up.

It is the sweet that drives us, right? The moments when faces of our students light up, when the funding comes through, when our colleagues make us laugh. The sweet is that while we only did just surpass Idaho in per pupil funding, we are on a trajectory of education funding that has allowed us more support professionals, some significant increases in salaries, recognition of professional time needed to be the best we can be for our students. The sweet is the progress toward addressing opportunity gaps for our students and demonstrating inequities so that all students regardless of zip code, race, economics, identity – ALL students can have what they need to fulfill their full potential. The sweet is YOU.

Six years have flown by. Mostly. In that time, my own kids have earned three Bachelor’s degrees, one Masters and one Doctorate. My parents both turned 80 and I have a grand-nephew named Levi. I’ve lost two very close friends and a dog to cancer and heart issues and old age and have held my children as they have lost too many dear ones to suicide. I’ve gained a son-in-law, a dog, quite a bit of weight (but we won’t go there), and a new addiction to popcorn and king-sized hotel room beds.

And yes, I do look forward to letting go of over 20K emails and maybe having a day that my inbox isn’t filled with conflicting messages or being misquoted or blamed. The life I share with my now-retired physics teacher husband looks nothing like when we were both teaching full time and I wonder what this next stage will mean for us when the pressure of this position and lessened and we have more time together (pray for me!).

The gratitude I have for YOU and our UEA is without measure. As these last weeks lead to this transition, I have comfort in knowing that while there have been many bittersweet moments in my tenure, it is the sweet – YOU – that is imprinted on my being. Serving as your UEA president has been an honor and a joy.