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The Activist’s Cookbook

Stirring it up in the name of public education.

Take a heaping cup of concern for public education and mix well with the tools of political advocacy: your phone, your feet, and your voice. It’s a foolproof recipe for electing politicians who care about public education.

With the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act on the horizon in Congress, and countless states still cutting school budgets and staffs, it’s never been more important for NEA members to get in the mix. The people who sit in state capitols and Congress have a great deal of influence over your lives—how you teach and whether you get paid fairly to do it.

“Sometimes I hear people say, ‘Oh, but I’m not political. I’m an educator!’” says Lee Schreiner, a politically active Ohio teacher. “And I say, ‘Bull! Name one thing in your job that isn’t political.’”

How many kids are sitting in your classroom? How many hours do you spend with them? How often do you test them? What exactly do you test? Or teach? Do you have the assistance of an aide? Is your classroom clean and safe? Or take a taste of this: Are you paid like you deserve?

If you don’t like the answers, if politics as usual have left a bad taste in your mouth, then turn up the heat. Follow in the steps of your colleagues who have been phoning, emailing, knocking on doors, and donating money to the NEA Fund for Public Education.

Here are their recipes for success.

    Secret Recipe
    for Success

    Miss Mixon
    Mixes It Up


    a la Kathy

This is a no fuss, no muss recipe for those of us who care deeply, but have zero time to invest in advocacy.


  • One (1) Computer
  • One (1) Dollar
  1. Visit the NEA Foundation
  2. Make a donation, as big as you like.
  3. Help elect pro-public education candidates!


Cook’s notes: The NEA Fund for Children & Public Education gladly receives donations from NEA members—it never uses dues dollars. In turn, it gives that money to candidates who have interviewed and earned the recommendation of local panels of NEA members.

Lee Schreiner, a Fund captain in Ohio, tells this story: His state’s education committee used to meet at the Capitol at 3:30 p.m.—not exactly an ideal time for teachers. But Schreiner would race onto the highway as soon as the buses departed his school and get there just in time to observe the kind of policymaking that really impacts educators.

“One day they were voting on an education issue—funding for a program called Ohio Reads—and three of the [state legislators] that I knew looked right at me with this confused, ‘I don’t know what to do’ look and gave me a thumbs-up, thumbs-down signal. I gave them the thumbs-up vote and it passed by one vote,” Schreiner recalls. He knew right then that political activism by educators does actually reap the kinds of programs and policies that improve learning.

Don’t Be Shy! Calling a colleague is like the baker’s equivalent of a boxed cake mix. You can’t mess it up—and the results are sweet indeed.


  • One (1) Phone
  • One (1) Script
  • One (1) Smile—they can feel it through the phone line!

  1. Pick up the phone.
  2. Pick up the script.
  3. Go for it!



Cook’s notes: Are you a novice cook? Well, rest assured that this is not an exercise in improvisation. At any phone bank, you’ll get a handy script that spells out your end of the conversation, says Laurie Vasquez, a fourth-grade teacher from Valencia County with thousands of successful calls under her belt. “When people understand that they’re not going to have to… remember what to say, it’s much less intimidating,” Vasquez said.

Also, who’s a stranger? Somebody you haven’t met yet! When you phone bank for your Association, you’re talking to colleagues, having conversations about stuff that really matters—and it is a ton of fun, promises Monica Mixon, a classroom aide from Pennsylvania. “Get past the fear of thinking you’re going to say the wrong thing or that somebody’s going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. When you don't agree, you just say, ‘I respect that, I really do respect that.’”

And, this year, it's easier than ever. In addition to phone banks hosted by local Associations, you can visit the virtual phone bank at educationvotes. and make calls from your comfy couch!

People listen to you! So when you have the ears of friends, family, and colleagues, tell them about the candidates and issues that matter.


  • A few minutes

  • Some solid information

  • The respect of your colleagues


Laura Queen, a mid-dle-school teacher in Jefferson County, Colorado, can’t even count the number of potentially catastrophic initiatives on Colorado ballots in recent years. Any one of them could have gutted public education and opportunities for kids. With so much on the line, Queen isn’t the type to sit and do nothing—and she doesn’t want her colleagues to kick back either.

So she talks to them, sharing information in the few minutes before school or during lunch. And these conversations can be hugely influential, if you keep a few points in mind. First, “try not to get caught up in the rhetoric,” she advises. “It’s more about sharing information.” Second, try to measure what your audience cares about: is it technology, class size, pension funds? And provide them with the most pertinent research.

Often her colleagues will tell her, “Wow! Now I understand why you’re so passionate [about this issue]. I’ll pass it on!”

A recipe for good health! Not only can you help elect pro-public education A recipe for good health! Not only can you help elect pro-public education candidates, but you can burn a few calories too.


  • One (1) “walk list”

  • One (1) pair of walking shoes

  • One (1) or more bottles of water

  • One (1) walking buddy

  • Sunscreen, as needed


Kathy Porter, an elementary school teacher in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has been knocking on doors for 20-plus years. She’s probably been to 90 percent of the houses in her district and met thousands of hospitable folks. “When I go to the door and say, ‘I’m a teacher and I'm out working for people who support our kids because I believe in them,’ I’d say 99 percent of people are responsive,” Porter says. “People really appreciate the effort.”

Walkers are provided with a list of addresses from their local Association, as well as talking points about the candidate. “It’s very important to be able to answer truthfully,” Porter says. Her favorite neighborhoods are the poorer ones, she says, “where we have what we call ‘reluctant voters.’ You meet so many people who will say, ‘Anything for our children!’ and they’re so grateful you’re a teacher. It’s very rewarding.”

A face-to-face visit can be enormously influential to the voter, but it’s also a great deal for the volunteer, Porter says. “There’s fresh air and it’s nice to be outside,” she says. “And what else are you going to do on a Saturday morning? You might be stuck with housework—and isn’t this a good way to put it off?”

Published in:

Published In


  • anc_dyn_linksOctober | November 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksAugust | September 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksMay | June 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksMarch | April 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksJanuary | February 2010