Seeking Solidarity, and Finding It – Legislative post by UEA Ambassador Rebecca Packard

Legislative report submitted by UEA Advanced Policy Ambassador Rebecca Packard, aspiring educator

Rebecca Packard, right, is an aspiring educator.

When a UEA representative spoke in the Secondary Methods Seminar last semester, I knew I would become a member. Discussion before class was discouraging—basically the consensus was that the association is a great idea, but it was a big expense. True, given most teachers’ salaries, but my experience as a UEA Policy Ambassador showed me it is worth it.

Anyone who has had to pay for a lawyer knows a $500-a-year retainer with no additional hourly cost is a bargain, but more importantly, even if you never are subject to lawsuit as a teacher, UEA lobbyists are doing what they can to reduce your risk. There are dozens of education bills every legislative session, but this year brought us some especially shocking ones: SB234 and SB114 to name a couple. Basically, these bills demanded more documentation from teachers and other educational professionals, sometimes documentation that wasn’t pre-existing. These bills would take away from student-centered teaching to please angry parents—which by most accounts indicate is a small vocal minority—and they would make education professionals subject to law that the rest of the state is not.

At UEA Educator Day on the Hill, I had the pleasure of speaking with my local representative, Rep. Jefferson Burton, about these problematic bills, one of which was withdrawn before our meeting due to UEA’s impressive petition, both of which were similar in nature. I was glad to have someone explain how requiring teachers to create new documentation was like granting an unwarranted subpoena requesting undue burden. Not many have day-to-day lesson plans and would have to produce them if the laws were passed. Allowing that law to be written would put judges in the odd position of having to treat educators like second-class citizens since they would basically be giving a blanket subpoena creating undue burden. It would also hinder the improvisational nature of teaching that sometimes results in unanticipated supplemental material due to schedule changes or student curiosity. Four Corners and Heads Up 7-Up would have to be part of everyone’s curriculum to fill in the gaps if we could only get approval for how we could predict filling unanticipated time gaps. Substantially relevant supplemental material that could not be anticipated in time for approval would be eliminated.

I followed up with my representative in an email, with write-ups of stories from my experience as a student-teacher. I talked about an assembly unexpectedly taking half the class early one day, so we had to teach subject-relevant material but not something the others would miss on a test. I talked about how I, as an education student, was grateful when a concept I brought up in class was researched by one of my teachers and she had us read a relevant article about it the next week.

I was happy to find out my representative is also a teacher—he teaches at Utah Valley University! He understood my points and was generous with his time. Other Policy Ambassadors visited with my senator, but it was good to have the opportunity to research both of these politicians which I had taken for granted before.

After my visit to the hill, I contacted a Daily Herald editor to see if they were interested in an article. They asked for a UEA contact, which I quickly got through to UEA Communications Director Mike Kelley. I thought about writing to my senator and getting caught up in family legislation I heard about when listening to our senators and researching them, but obligations prevented further pursuit.

I was happy to see how quickly everyone was willing to work together to raise awareness about education issues—UEA, state politicians, teachers, media. I also saw how easy it could be to get swept up in all of this legislation and why we need full-time lobbyists to keep an eye on what our legislators are proposing. I am glad I got an inside look at how UEA and legislation work and hope to be a better citizen because of it.