A teacher plays many roles: educator, counselor, leader, and so much more. If you flip across any news broadcast or read any article related to education, you will see teachers portraying the role of victim.
Many educators often believe they have no control over their own destiny. They wait for things to happen to them based on legislation or current trends. There is a belief that the voice of a teacher doesn’t matter. However, when it comes to politics, the voice of the education community could be (and should be) among the loudest.
Follow the money
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States spent $621 billion on public education during the 2011-12 school year. At the state and federal level, education is one of the largest line items in any budget. When this much money is at stake, there are a lot of influential people helping to craft laws and policies which directly impact teachers in their efforts to prepare students for college and career.
Who’s who in advocacy
Traditionally, education advocacy was pretty easy to follow:
- Teachers had their union groups
- Administrators had their association representatives
- Parents had the PTA
Although teacher unions continue to play the largest role in advocacy, a wide variety of education advocacy groups with specific focus areas are on the rise.
Unlike traditional activist organizations which relied on membership dues, these new groups are typically supported by wealthy individuals or businesses. This is not to say that these groups are not trying to make positive changes, but it does make it more difficult for teachers to keep up with the ever-shifting political landscape related to education.
Being politically connected doesn’t necessarily mean you have to join the nearest teacher union or sign up to pass out campaign flyers, but it does require paying closer attention to the world around you.
There may be an advocacy group proposing a significant change to education policy within your state. Before joining the bandwagon or posting negative feedback on social media, take the time to research the group itself:
- How the group is financed?
- Which state leaders support their stance?
- What other changes has the group supported in the past?
This may not be as difficult as it sounds, and it could result in you making an informed decision which you can share with others.
Know thy legislators
At a recent teacher shortage task force meeting, Oklahoma State Sen. John Ford spoke about the increased importance for teachers to make their voices heard politically. As the chair of the education committee, Ford expressed the need for more contact between educators and legislators. He went so far as to chastise anyone in attendance who did not have their legislators’ contacts programmed into their phones.
With the presidential elections less than a year away, the current pool of candidates has many issues to discuss. Teachers need to rely on more than second hand information when it comes to supporting a candidate. This may require listening to debates, researching previous voting on educational bills, or connecting major campaign supporters to pro-education organizations. The president of the United States is the most influential political figure in our country, so it’s worth taking the time to learn about and support the right candidate for the job.
Your voice can be loud
There are well over 3 million teachers in the United States. Even if only half of these educators made their voices heard, it would still be among the largest advocacy groups in the nation.
Whether your focus is class size, salary, teacher evaluation, or all of the above it is up to you to share your knowledge and expertise in the field of education with your legislator.
It’s easy to claim that a politician doesn’t care. But if legislators are not made aware that an issue is important, it will be overlooked in favor of something else.
The politically connected teacher can make a difference.
Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.Learn More: Click to view related resources.