Lorretta Johnson is secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers. Previously she served as AFT Executive Vice President; president of AFT-Maryland; president of the Baltimore Teachers Union’s paraprofessional chapter; and chair of the AFT Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel program and policy council. Before becoming AFT executive vice president, Johnson was an AFT vice president for 30 years. She began her career in 1966 as a teacher’s aide at a Baltimore elementary school, where she earned $2.25 an hour and received no benefits. To improve the work situation of paraprofessionals, she organized them into the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU). In 1970, she negotiated the union’s first contract, which had a grievance procedure as its hallmark. That experience laid the foundation for Johnson’s union activism. Johnson, who received her teaching degree through the Career Opportunities Program at Coppin State University in Maryland, has also been a pioneer in the development of innovative career ladder and professional development programs for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel.
Current education policies haven’t sufficiently leveraged the organizational and interpersonal aspects of schools which can benefit educators and students collectively. Instead, the focus has been primarily on technical and individual-level approaches. However, a focus on individuals seems insufficient and limited; a simultaneous and equally strong focus on strengthening the organizations where teachers work appears sorely needed.