Schools nationwide have closed, affecting millions of students nationally and hundreds of thousands here in Utah. In the wake of this, our initial goals were centered around how to support our students and ourselves as we learned and taught online.
Naturally, as we continue through the last month of school, we must maintain that focus and help our students through this unique experience. But, at the same time, it has become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects in many parts of our lives and especially in education.
Conversations about what education should focus on, how it should be delivered and by whom will always be debated and even more so at this time. Right now from Where are the Teachers? to “9 Ways Schools Will Look Different,” discussions are being had about current experiences and the future of education. Who better to be part of that discussion, than the teachers themselves?
This past legislative session, educators found success when they were a part of the debate, failure when they were not heard and, in one case, were not really part of the discussion when they should have been. We need to be valuable resources in future policy making and here’s how.
Teachers must become familiar with Utah’s legislative process, which will help us be timely and targeted in our approach. For instance, here in Utah, our Legislature is a part-time body, actively meeting for only 45 days starting in January. If you want to strike up a relationship with a policy maker during the general session, it may not be the most effective time to do it. Each session, legislators wade through hundreds of pressing issues, which makes it harder for you to create a meaningful connection.
Instead, teachers should become resources to their local legislators prior to the session, as well as during it. And, in my own experience, policy makers need to see data and specifics, along with your personal experiences. Your evidence will help them to help you, and your personal experiences will help them feel the need to help you.
You can go to the Legislature’s home page to find out who your legislators are and even create an account in which you can receive updates on the bills that you want to be aware of. Then reach out to legislators through email, Twitter or a phone call in which you quickly identify yourself as a voting member of their district with an expertise in education. Then continue to stay current on the news and even check out this weekly podcast about Utah politics.
Also take the opportunity to join educational organizations online as you stay in your homes. Twitter is an amazing tool and easier to learn than some realize. There are many different education focused chats on Twitter which have helped me make digital friends across the U.S. Teachers here in Utah use Twitter to discuss ways to improve our profession and to honestly support each other in our shared struggles as teachers.
In this interesting time of history, our current educational practices are being challenged and scrutinized. There will be lessons learned and decisions made from these debates. Teachers must be the resources others look to.
So, Utah teachers, educate yourselves, reach out and take your rightful place at that table of educational discussion. You are a professional and policy makers need your professional advice.
Stephan Seabury, Saratoga Springs, is a Utah Teacher Fellow and history and AP government teacher at Providence Hall High School. Follow him at @mr_seabiscuit .