Becoming an Advocate for Education – Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Jacob Rollins


Jacob Rollins is one of nineteen
2020 UEA Policy Ambassadors
Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Jacob Rollins, language arts teacher at West Hills Middle School in Jordan School District

I am a student, teacher and lover of history. History is my passion and how I find lessons from the past and guidance on the path forward. When I signed up to be a UEA Policy Ambassador, I looked to history for inspiration and how to be a voice for education in Utah. Let me bring the voices of history, past and recent, to the forefront to give insight into being a voice for education.

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine

We live in a time when educators are becoming discouraged in ever rapid numbers. Pressures from work overload, not enough resources to help our students succeed, supporting ourselves and our families from paychecks that barely makes the living wage, etc. But all of us in education know this. These are some of the reasons why we see a lack of professionals entering the education field and why many are dropping out. 

At the same time, we are seeing teachers in record numbers speaking out, showing up, and advocating ever stronger for the things we know we need to help our students succeed. The soul of education, and educators, is being tried. So how can we match what the times call for?

“Students must have initiative; they should not be mere imitators. They must learn to think and act for themselves and be free.” – Cesar Chavez

We must be the examples of being passionate advocates for education. If we want our students to be critical thinkers and doers, we must be that in our own lives. It is one of the basic structures of teaching; modeling. I will be the first to admit that contacting my local representative felt daunting and overwhelming. What should I say? Am I going to just look stupid and uninformed? How is this really going to make a difference?

These questions couldn’t be answered until I took the one crucial step of giving it a shot. It is what I expect my students to do when first encountering a skill or task that they haven’t attempted much; using rhetoric in an argument, polynomial equations or analyzing the reasons for Reconstruction’s failure. But we expect our students to take those first steps, fail and learn how to course correct to become proficient. We must do the same in being a voice for education.

“Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” “Facts are stubborn things.” – Abigail & John Adams

One of the best pieces of advice I can give in being a voice for education is to learn your facts. UEA’s Under the Dome page on their website is such an undervalued yet amazing resource. This was my process in mapping how I could give voice to education:

  1. Review the legislative tracking sheet.
  2. Pick a couple of bills that I was passionate about.
  3. Get specific on the effect that legislation would have on me as a teacher and my students.
  4. Make that message simple yet precise to express to my representative.

Then I can contact my representative with that message in person or even through email.

“Becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn't end.” – Michelle Obama

I am so grateful and proud of our UEA team for continuing the push for the WPU, Weighted Pupil Unit, to increase by 6%. When I went to the Utah Capitol earlier in the legislative session, my representative told me that the increase would probably only get to 4%. Just at the beginning of last week, I was hearing that it was capping out at 5%. With continued vigilance in not letting our voices be devalued, the UEA, legislative leaders and the governor’s office were able to reach an agreement that got the 6% that we sought for originally. 

With that in mind, we should not settle down. As Michelle Obama conveyed, we don’t stop when we reach our goal. If we want education in Utah to BECOME a leader in the nation, we must keep moving forward to better ourselves. The first time I talked with my legislators wasn’t perfect. But since that first time, I have reached out and communicated with them multiple more times. I am still learning how to have these political discussions over education policy, but you can bet that my representative knows my face and knows that when he votes on education bills, I’ll be watching and responding. Putting a face to an issue is sometimes all that is needed.

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