Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Shandré Call, English teacher at East High School in Salt Lake City School District
I began my teaching career in South Africa. When my own high school English teacher shone a light on the transformative power of poetry and literature, the path ahead for me was clear. Living through the dying days of Apartheid as a university student in Johannesburg was an education all on its own. That tumultuous political period was a time of revolution and change. We knew we were living through historic times and never underestimated the power that many small voices could have if we united them and spoke out as one. Being young, idealistic and impassioned, we truly believed that challenging and protesting unjust laws would usher in liberation and change. And it did.
Fast forward two decades and I am in Utah, taking the oath as a United States citizen in August 2019. It had been a long journey to reach this point, both literally and figuratively. I will never forget the words of Senator Mitt Romney, who spoke at my citizenship ceremony. He said, “Know that you are as much an American as any other person in this room. Your experiences and journey to citizenship may make it even more valuable for you personally because you weren’t born into it.” He went on to discuss the rights, privileges and responsibilities we all share as citizens.
When I became a teacher in the Salt Lake School District six years ago, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Not only was I given my own classroom with windows (a big plus if you’ve never had that) and a little adjoining office. I was also given the wonderful opportunity of representation. Joining SLEA on day one, I was very aware of how few teachers globally are represented by an education union or association. The support factor was – and is – important, but the power of joining with others in the profession to implement real change and make a difference is still what appeals to me most.
The ways we have had to adapt to teaching during the pandemic echoed a time of great change in my life as a teacher many years ago when Nelson Mandela became president and schools were desegregated. I have seen the incredible strength, sacrifice and adjustments teachers both there and here have made. In both instances, our students were and are at the heart of everything we do. UEA weaves that mantra into every decision that is made and every action that is taken.
As a new American, I am poignantly aware of my freedoms and rights and the need to contribute meaningfully in whatever ways I can. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and, like all teachers everywhere, I want to make a difference and provide my students with an education that will give them options to follow dreams and successful life paths of their own choosing. Being a UEA Policy Ambassador this year is another step to help me do so.
Join with me and your local association and the larger UEA family to create lasting change. As so many of my co-ambassadors have expressed: Our voices matter. Laws that affect us and our students don’t happen in isolation and part of our legislators’ and representatives’ duties is to hear us and be guided by our input. I am learning that they will listen if we speak. And when our voices band together, the sound we make is even louder.