Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Sarah Nichols, resource teacher at Highland High School in Salt Lake City School District
When I first began teaching, I was given two excellent pieces of advice: “don’t speak unless the students are listening” and “don’t speak unless you have something to say.” The first one was about classroom management—if a teacher is in the habit of trying to lecture over the voices of noisy, distracted students, she won’t be heard. This is why attention signals and the infamous “teacher look” were invented. After a little bit of practice, I was really good at waiting to speak until the students were listening.
The second piece of advice can be trickier. If you’re like me, you may not be skilled at picking concise and precise ways to express yourself. Like me, you might stumble over words or excitedly overshare. Like me, you may not make every monologue meaningful. But like me, you do have something to say.
You are the expert on your students, your content, your curriculum and your classroom. You see the real impact of new policies or the lack of appropriate funding. You know what your students need to be successful.
This year, I decided that I would say something. I emailed a state senator who was sponsoring legislation that would hurt my school and he called me within minutes. I was a little scared at first and we didn’t really agree on much, but it felt like I was having at least a little bit of an impact by even having the conversation. I sent a Facebook message to my amazing state representative, Elizabeth Weight, to just talk about some policies in general. We talked for an hour and found we had a lot in common! She acknowledged and understood my concerns. We might even get some good legislation out of that phone call. I have started tweeting and now follow state legislators on social media. I am excited to get even more involved with sharing my voice after such a positive start.
I had been worried that our elected representatives might not have the background to understand my perspective or that they wouldn’t care. As I communicated with elected officials and listened to my first House Education Committee meeting, I realized that they would and they do. The 15 members of the House Education committee have about 150 combined years of experience in public education. Many are parents and grandparents who have had their children in public schools. One used to be a superintendent, one has a doctorate in education, and one even previously worked for the UEA!
It was abundantly clear as they discussed proposed bills on civic engagement and personalized competency-based learning that they do care — not just about students but about teachers. I doubt I will agree with every bill that comes out of that committee, but it is reassuring to know that they are working from the same place as me — trying to find the best options for students, teachers and the community.
As a teacher, you have something to say. This is the time to say it. Contact your state legislators and tell them what you need. The more voices they hear, the more they will understand how to best serve our schools. You don’t need an attention signal or the “teacher look.” Just send an email or give them a call and you might be surprised to realize that they will listen.