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Press Release



December 20, 2018
Contact: Christina Mazzanti

Association of American Educators Founder Gary Beckner Retires After 25 Years;
New Leadership at Non-Union Teacher Association

Mission Viejo, CA – After twenty-five years of leadership, Gary Beckner, the longtime executive director of the Association of American Educators, is retiring from his full-time role at the national, non-union, professional teachers association he founded.

“Leading AAE from the kernel of an idea, to a trailblazer, to the leader it now is has been an incredible honor,” recounted Beckner in his farewell message to members. “AAE’s accomplishments over the years reflect the devotion and hard work of numerous staff members and the trust of many, many teachers all across the country.”

Effective January 1, 2019, Colin Sharkey will be elevated to executive director of AAE and AAE Foundation and will join the boards of both organizations. Sharkey had been serving as executive vice president and has been with AAE for more than ten years. Under Sharkey’s leadership, AAE and AAE Foundation will continue serving a growing nationwide membership, empowering educators to advocate for themselves and their students, amplifying the voice of the professional educator, and promoting essential policy changes to better serve educators and students.

“It is a privilege to serve America’s educators and to lead this unique and vital pair of organizations and this phenomenal team of people,” said Sharkey. “I am grateful to Gary and the board for entrusting me with this responsibility and for their many years of guidance and friendship. As a proud product of America’s public schools and of countless unselfish educators—including my mother, Karen—I remain tirelessly committed to the vision of a teaching profession that is student-oriented, well respected, and personally fulfilling.”

Beckner will continue to serve as chairman of the board and will continue to support the mission of the organization through several unique projects as president emeritus. “The board and I have the utmost confidence in Colin’s ability to lead AAE in the years ahead,” Beckner said of the transition.

In 1994, after consultation with many professional educators throughout the country, including several National Teachers of the Year, Gary and his wife Piete founded AAE as an alternative to the traditional teacher unions. Responding to concerns expressed by those teachers that the national unions—often distracted by politics and issues unrelated to education—had lost their way and had become less reflective of the thinking of true professionals.

“No matter where I traveled, the message was the same: educators are invaluable, but aren’t respected or rewarded like the professionals they want to be,” recounted Beckner. “If AAE can restore a non-partisan, student-oriented voice to teaching, teachers can reclaim their professionalism.”

“We ask so much of educators and they tell us what they need in return, only to be ignored or discounted,” lamented Sharkey. “The students suffer when we diminish the fundamental role played by the professional educator.”

AAE provides educators in public, charter, private, parochial, and online schools with a non-partisan, non-union option for liability insurance, job protection coverage, and professional resources. From the very first member to tens of thousands of members across the country, AAE has grown to be the premier non-union professional association for teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, education support staff, and college professors.

In addition to serving many members directly, AAE championed a network of independent, state-based, non-union, teacher associations as a way to advance the movement. Hundreds of thousands of educators disenchanted with the direction of their profession and approach of the existing association options have been served through the work of AAE and AAE Foundation.

Sharkey has served as executive vice president, overseeing day-to-day operations at AAE and AAE Foundation and a growing network of state chapters for several years. Sharkey first joined AAE in 2008 as Director of National Projects, responsible for new state chapters, an award-winning website overhaul, AAE’s participation in numerous education and labor reform coalitions, and development. Prior to his joining AAE, Sharkey served in coalition relations at The Heritage Foundation and in the independent college journalism at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Sharkey graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2005.

Prior to forming AAE, Beckner retired from an accomplished business career managing and co-owning a successful insurance company. Beckner is a credentialed community college instructor, has authored a college textbook, and served as executive director of the Coalition of Independent Educator Associations.

The Association of American Educators (AAE) is the largest national, non-union, professional educator organization, advancing the profession by offering a modern approach to educator empowerment and advocacy—promoting professionalism, collaboration and excellence without a partisan agenda. AAE is committed to a teaching profession that is student-oriented, well respected, and personally fulfilling. AAE serves members in all fifty states and welcomes professionals from all education entities. Membership is $16.50 per month which includes $2 million professional liability insurance, employment rights coverage, professional resources and many other benefits. Visit for further information.