Focusing Teacher Passion and Power, by UEA President Heidi Matthews

In a recent tv interview, I was asked if I thought teacher walkouts like the ones in Oklahoma and Kentucky are possible here in Utah. My response was, “anything is possible.”

Teachers are passionate and powerful. How we direct that passion and wield that power is critical. In Oklahoma, Kentucky and many other states, teacher passion is fueling school walkouts, massive protests and the takeover of state capitol buildings. We fully support the efforts of these brave, powerful agents of change.

Here in Utah, teacher passion fueled the gathering of more than 160,000 signatures to support the ‘Our Schools Now’ drive for increased school funding. Teacher power, combined with the support of the business community, pushed lawmakers into forging a compromise that creates the path to historic levels of public education funding in Utah. Teacher passion and power have us on the brink of bringing more than $800 per student in new money to our schools.

So, now where do Utah teachers best focus our passion and power? May I offer three suggestions:

First, the Our Schools Now compromise forged in the waning days of the recent legislative session requires the passage of a 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase, which will be on the November ballot. Support it. Get involved in the campaign. Talk to family, friends and neighbors. Vote!

Second, think locally. What can you do to improve your working conditions, which are your students’ learning conditions? You should see record funding coming to your schools this year. Act collectively with your local association to direct that funding where it will make the most difference.

Third, it’s an election year for our state legislature. Find out who’s running in your area. Support those candidates who support our public schools, our students and teachers. Knock doors. Put a sign in your yard. Contribute to UEA-PAC. Vote!

Yes, teachers have passion and power. Used wisely, this passion and power can bring about real change for our students and our profession.