Commentary: Utah teachers — It’s time to walk to the polls

Why are we not also a sea of red demanding change at the steps of our Capitol?

(Ross D. Franklin | The Associated Press) Teachers chant as they continue to protest at the Arizona Capitol Thursday, May 3, 2018, in Phoenix. After an all night legislative budget session the legislature passed the new education spending portion of the budget and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed that part of the budget.

A school administrator I once worked with was well known for reminding his students to “walk with a purpose.”

I am in awe as I see teachers in states like Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina and West Virginia courageously walk the streets with a purpose. They and their association colleagues are leaving the classrooms and students they love to demand support for public education and the schools their students deserve.

Utah schools face many similar challenges to those states where teachers are walking: severe teacher shortages, large class sizes, small per-student spending, reduced teacher benefits and low wages. So why are we not also a sea of red demanding change at the steps of our Capitol?

The reality is, teachers have been walking for quite some time:

  • We walk to our classrooms each day to fulfill the promise of a great public education for every student, despite the pressure of an ever-increasing workload.

  • We walk up to each and every one of our students so we can know what motivates and inspires them to learn, despite overwhelmingly large class sizes.

  • We walk to grocery, clothing and classroom supply stores to purchase - with our own funds – items our students need to learn, live and feel safe.

  • We walk to our after-school meetings with parents and colleagues to collaborate and strategize for our students’ success.

  • We walk to school board meetings, parent conferences and student events because we know the connections we make with our students and communities promote student success.

  • We walk to the Legislature and our association meetings to advocate for our profession and to unite our voices in support of our students.

All teachers walk with a purpose. But Utah teachers have done additional walking in recent months:

  • We walked to the voting booth to elect legislators who support our public schools.

  • We walked to the table with business leaders who recognized a trained workforce requires a well-funded public education system, collaboratively creating the ‘Our Schools Now’ drive for increased school funding.

  • We walked the state along with many others concerned about public education to gather more than 160,000 signatures supporting the ‘Our Schools Now’ initiative.

  • We walked to the Capitol building to urge support for a compromise that has us on the brink of bringing more than $800 per student in new money to our schools.

  • We walked into negotiations with school districts where the new funding is providing significant employee salary increases and added investments in student success in some areas.

Yes, all this walking is exhausting, but we cannot stop because, sadly, far too many excellent teachers are walking away from the profession they love. They walk to careers where they can better support their families. When great teachers walk away, it’s our students who suffer.

Utah teachers must continue to walk with a purpose. Utah’s unique and enviable collaborative path to increased education funding is not over. We need everyone who supports a great public school for every student to join us.

The most important walk we can make now is to support our students at the ballot box in November. The final piece of the Our Schools Now compromise, a gas tax for schools and roads, will be on the ballot. This investment in our students will bring big rewards.

As teachers, student success is at the heart of everything we do. We will not shy away from action to assure our students have what they need to succeed. We must continue to “walk with a purpose” in support of our students. We invite everyone to join us.

Heidi Matthews | Utah Education Association

Heidi Matthews is a Park City junior high school media teacher, elected by public school teachers statewide to serve as president of the Utah Education Association.