Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Hunter Clapsadl, sixth-grade teacher at Diamond Ridge Elementary School in Granite School District
Time and time again it seems teachers hear the following statement: “Keep politics out of the classroom!” Many outside of our profession expect us to hold a neutral position on all things political, and believe that politics and teaching do not go hand in hand. Some of us may agree with that sentiment, others may strongly oppose.
Enter the 2020-2021 school year. As we have all seen, this year has been one of the most politically charged, dividing times we have experienced as educators. We’ve seen COVID completely change the structure of our school and social communities, watched and stood with those demanding equality in our country and even witnessed an attack on our nation’s capital. As an adult I have struggled to process these events and how they affect me.
Our students are engaged in the same media that we are and are, in turn, grappling with the same resulting anxiety and stress. I have found myself, like many other educators, wondering how to best talk about these sensitive political topics with my students. Should I say nothing at all and hope it blows over? What if I take an oppositional stance? Will this topic lead to angry parent emails?
My biggest takeaway is this: not talking and caring about politics in our classrooms is a direct disservice to our students. We owe them the opportunity to process, understand and take action regarding current events in our country. Here is a link to Teaching Tolerance, a website I have found to be extremely helpful this year. I hope you find use for it as well.
So where do we start? Navigating the political sphere in regards to our classrooms is something that is ever changing. We constantly need to adapt and switch gears to make sure we are addressing these critical topics. Maybe the first step for you is joining your local union. Or perhaps you’d like to start integrating more conversation about current issues in your classrooms. The first step for me was becoming a Policy Ambassador with UEA. I have learned more than I would have ever expected about the legislative process and how it impacts our schools. If you are a fellow educator, I urge you to take a small step this week to take some political action that will impact your students, big or small.
As a teacher your job is political. Every year education bills are presented, many of which have a direct effect on your district, school and/or classroom. That is why it is important to pay attention to the education bills being discussed during the Utah legislative session and let your local house and senate representative know how you feel about the bills and hold them accountable for how they vote.