Utah social studies teachers lead congressional campaign
It's not unusual for teachers to pick up summer jobs to subsidize their less-than-stupendous salaries.
But at least two West Valley City teachers' summer jobs this year will extend far beyond the season to Election Day in November.
"September and October are going to be the longest two months of my life, and I know that," said Brandt Shaw, a Monticello Academy teacher, of his summer job in politics. "But I believe in it."
Shaw, along with fellow Monticello Academy teacher Alan Seim, are practicing what they teach this summer. The two social studies teachers are leading the congressional campaign of Jay Seegmiller, the Democratic candidate for Utah's 2nd District, with Seim as campaign manager and Shaw as field director.
Seim, who teaches eighth-grade U.S. history, and Shaw, who teaches ninth-grade world geography and culture, are accustomed to talking politics in their classrooms at the West Valley City charter school. As social studies teachers, they lead discussions about current events such as the sex education bill vetoed earlier this year; a ban on texting and driving; and federal legislation such as the Dream Act.
Now, they're having those discussions outside the classroom and inside campaign headquarters a small Salt Lake City office where dry erase boards hang from the walls, outlining volunteer schedules and daily phone call goals.
"This isn't just hanging out in the faculty room talking about politics anymore," Shaw joked.
Finding their voices • Seegmiller, who is running against GOP nominee Chris Stewart, said he hired the two men for their skills, but it certainly didn't hurt that they were teachers. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for school teachers, and that certainly has something to do with why I was excited about them," Seegmiller said.
The experience is one in a string of political jobs for Seim, 36, though it's a first for the 29-year-old Shaw.
Seim first started working in politics about four years ago, leading a couple of candidates' campaigns for state House, and working on other campaigns as well.
"I'm a teacher, and I wanted to be able to educate Utah voters about politics and governance and get more people involved in the process," said Seim. He got to know Seegmiller at political events.
Shaw, however, didn't get heavily involved in politics until April when he attended his local caucus meeting. He was dissatisfied with his area's House representative and wanted to make his voice heard. He soon found himself volunteering to be a precinct chairman, going to county and state democratic conventions as a delegate. A state House candidate even offered him a job as a campaign manager, though he didn't feel quite ready to lead a campaign himself, being so new to politics.
But Seim had a different idea as he watched his teaching colleague's interest in politics bloom. The two know each other well, sharing a classroom at Monticello that they take turns using on alternate days.
Seim offered him the job of field director for Seegmiller's campaign.
Shaw said he saw the job as an opportunity to deepen his understanding of politics and take that back into the classroom, though both educators emphasized that they never talk about their own political views with students.
"It's allowed me to understand how decisions are made, how things are getting done," Shaw said, "and that's the stuff that really engages the kids, not the facts and figures."
Passion for two professions • Seim and Shaw won't just bring what they learned in politics back to the classroom, however. They're also bringing the skills they've honed in the classroom to politics. Schoolyard high jinks and political antics aren't always all that different, it seems.
"From a managerial standpoint, I don't think there's [anything] much harder than managing 150 junior high kids every day," Seim said.
And at meetings, campaign staffers raise their hands when they wish to speak. Seim said the hand raising isn't a hard and fast rule it's somewhat of a joke.
But only somewhat.
"A campaign moves quick," Seim said, "so when you're sitting around a table in your staff meeting, everybody wants to be heard and everybody wants input. But I think what we do is, we really take from our classroom, one person needs to talk at a time."
Others who work in the office might poke fun at the hand-raising, but there's no denying their style works.
"I'm a fairly introverted person, and these guys are quite the opposite," said Alex Cragun, the campaign's finance director, "so they kind of bring that out of me."
Soon, the teachers will be calling on pupils and staffers both. Once school starts, they'll work at Monticello during the day, then head to campaign headquarters in the evenings.
Both teachers understand they'll likely have a few sleepless nights.
"Things get done through inspiration, perspiration and Mountain Dew in my life," joked Shaw, a half-drained, 44-ounce diet Mountain Dew at his side.
Shaw is already working two jobs this summer, as the campaign field director and a pharmacy technician, to support his family, which includes his pregnant wife and two children.
The teachers, however, say the long hours and lack of sleep are worth it to do not just one job, but two, that they love.
"There are certain things in life that give you energy, and certain things in life that take your energy," Seim said. "Teaching and politics feed me. At the end of the day, I'm charged up, not worn down."