John Collins is president of the St. Lawrence-
Lewis BOCES Federation of Instructional
Support Personnel. He was interviewed by
Cheryl Rockhill, president of the Brushton-
Moira Support Staff Association and chair of
the NYSUT SRP Advisory Committee.
Tell me about your job and why
you love what you do.
I am a teaching assistant in the
Applied Behavioral Analysis program.
We work 1:1 with students who are
on the autism spectrum. We receive
children from all over St. Lawrence
County, from 16 of our 18 component
districts. Our goal is to build skills
necessary to function as independently
as possible whether they enter
college, the workforce, or remain at
home after school.
There is lots to love about the ABA
program: watching the kids acquire,
practice and master skills; celebrating
students and colleagues as they
achieve their goals; camaraderie
between the staff; and the gratitude
of parents. What I love most about
my job is seeing my students gain
confidence in their abilities.
How did you get involved in your
I started out as a long-term substitute.
Like many new teachers, I made
a few newbie mistakes. When my
principal relieved me of my duties
she mentioned that, because I wasn’t
a full-time teacher, I had no mentor
teacher or union support. I vowed to
never let that happen again.
When BOCES hired me, I started
attending union meetings and
familiarizing myself with the contract.
I then entered the new member trainings
offered by our NYSUT regional
office, learning how to connect
members with NYSUT’s program
and member services. I gained a
reputation as a fearless advocate for
fellow union members. In 2017, I was
elected secretary. Come 2020, I ran
uncontested for president.
How do you make a difference?
I provide my students calm
and steady support to master
independent living skills. It’s rewarding
to see them flourish.
I teach members their rights under
the collective bargaining agreement
and state laws; and help them
to advocate for themselves and our
students. I am also a safety for them
to vent. Times are tough and our
members need to know they can
have a safe haven for “letting it out.”
What about your community
Two times a year the union hosts a
charity drive to support our community.
We also stand in solidarity with
Since high school I have been a
“ringer” for several trivia teams. This
past spring, I auditioned for the show
“The Chase.” I am hoping to be cast
should there be a third season.