I once taught at a charter school in Arizona. They didn’t have a union, and it was a terrible experience. I resolved that I would never be without a union again. When I went to teach in Alaska, I was always a member of my union, but not super involved until I was asked to give testimony in front of our state legislature.
The topic was full-day kindergarten. About 8 years ago, we did not have it. I was teaching 1st grade at the time, and it was like trying to give kids a year and a half of education because the common core standards are no different whether they have half-day kindergarten or full-day kindergarten. We finally got full-day kindergarten this year.
My union has supported and inspired my journey in advocacy, which is why I now travel three hundred and eighty-six miles each way from my home in Post Falls, Idaho, to the Statehouse, in Boise, to lobby my lawmakers. I know it’s far, but it’s worth it to advocate for my students.
To connect with lawmakers, I share a story from my school, and then stay in touch with them throughout the legislative session. I draw on stories from my 20-plus years in the classroom.
I recently spoke about banning books. It’s a local community issue and something I’m passionate about. For example, I can’t use books in my classroom if there is any LGBTQIA+ characters.
I’m in an area where we can’t even use Scholastic News. It’s considered too woke.
Some legislators aren’t interested in what I have to say. I meet with them anyway. I really want them to know what’s happening in our classrooms. Otherwise, they may be getting their information from one source, and it may be bad information. That, to me, is the heart of advocacy.
I also routinely send emails and letters. I try to speak in front of our state legislative committees or the state board of education to give testimony. I’ve invited numerous legislators to visit my classroom. None of them have ever accepted, but now that I’m the Idaho Teacher of the Year, I’m hoping to use that cache to get one of them to do it!
It’s hard to ask teachers to do one more thing. But the public and legislators are ultimately the folks who make decisions about what happens in our classrooms—they are the people who vote and the people who make the policies and funding decisions. Many educators don’t see how everything we can do is entirely affected by politics. Our teacher prep programs don’t do a great job of making those connections. A lot of teachers say, I’m not political, but from our local school boards to the state legislature, that’s who’s deciding the content we teach, the days we have to teach it, the books we’ll use, the state of the buildings we will teach in, to how many children are in our classroom. This year I have 29 students.
As teachers, we need to let people know how amazing a job we do daily, the thousands of ways we reach students, the art and the science that goes into teaching, and the professionals that we are. I educate students, but I also educate parents, community members and legislators about what I do. Whether or not I want that to be my job, it is my job.