Almost every adult in this country went through some sort of a school in their youth; almost everyone has had at least one teacher. Sure, there are some adults who were home-schooled and some whose education occurred in other countries (like my mother), but the vast majority of our society’s adults went through public or private school in the U.S.
Because they’ve been through a school, many adults think that they understand the nuances of running a school or a district or teaching a class. They don’t. I didn’t really understand the nuances of my job until about my third year (my current professor from my Master’s Degree program says it takes five years for a teacher to fully understand the system), and I am still learning, so I know first-hand that just because one went through a school system does not mean he understands the nuances of education, teaching, the dynamics of a school or district.
There are a lot a “reforms” barreling down at our country’s education system and at teachers, and as a teacher myself, I understand that many of the reforms are really “deforms.” There are many destructive policies being implemented in this country.
With that thought in mind, back in September, I decided that I was going to bring as many “education policy makers” to my classes as possible, so I invited just about everyone you could imagine—all the way from President Clinton to local politicians to local reporters. I invited every person individually. I did not send out a mass email. Of course, I have gotten a lot of rejections and a lot of people who simply ignored me. I’m fine with that. Clinton, by the way, has ignored me all three times that I have contacted him, which I started doing after I heard one of his speeches where he discussed education. And I’ll keep contacting him. If I have one thing going for me it’s persistence.
The people who did come were, across the board, impressive in their own ways. I suppose that makes sense: a politician is only going to agree to such an endeavor if he is already somewhat pro-education.
- The first “policy maker” who came to my class was my school district’s own superintendent. I thought he had forgotten about us, because I invited him in September or October, and he still hadn’t come in December. However, he obviously hadn’t forgotten, because he arrived on the last day of the first semester, which I respected, because it seemed to indicate to me that he was making sure that he followed through with his previous comment that he would come before winter break. He didn’t lecture the students: he asked questions, and his questions were potential landmines. He asked questions about issues that he had to have known would incite passion in the students. I respected that, too.
- Dr. Eric Meyer, who’s in District 28’s House, was our next speaker, and he was pragmatic and very pro-education. I wish that I would have taken notes, but I didn’t, and he came months ago, so I don’t have specific details to give. I liked him, though, and so did my students.
- Governor Brewer’s Chief of Staff, Scott Smith, came twice. I had invited Brewer, but I got a friendly email saying that she couldn’t fit it into her schedule but that Scott Smith could come. He came in the midst of the controversy surrounding S.B.1062 (the so-called “anti gay” bill); so many of the students wanted to discuss that. Scott Smith obliged. Notably, Brewer vetoed the bill the next day. He also talked about the political process and how important it is to vote in the primary elections. He said we live in a state with such a low turnout for primaries, that the “nuts” from the far right or far left of each party is who makes it through the primary election, because the staunch Republicans and Democrats are the ones who vote: not the more moderate voters, even though the more moderate voters are the ones who match the makeup of the state better.
- Jeff Schwartz, who’s running against John Kavanagh in District 23’s Senate race, was a hit with the students. They thought he was “real,” and I have to agree with them. He brought up an education issue that my students knew I would not agree with, and they all looked at me with a look on their faces that said, “Ms. Marsh, are you going to call him out on that?!” So I did: I said, “Mr. Schwartz, perhaps you and I should get a cup of coffee sometime and discuss that issue further.” He agreed and the next week met with me, three other teachers, one of my site’s administrators and his campaign manager. I don’t think that we changed his mind about the issue, but I am confident that he at least now sees and understands teachers’ perspectives on it.
- Felecia Rotellini, who’s running against Tom Horne for Attorney General, was next. She was amazing. For one thing, she could have probably been as dumb as a soap dish, and I would have loved her because I dislike Tom Horne so thoroughly. However, she wasn’t as “dumb as a soap dish”: she was intelligent, pragmatic, passionate, knowledgeable and relatable to the students and to me. The kids were totally impressed with her. She better win!
- Our last speaker was Effie Carlson, who’s running for District 23’s House. She knew an impressive amount about education; in fact, she may be the only person with whom I have personally talked who knows more about common core than I do. Sure, there are experts on a national and state level who know far more than I do about it, but I have done significant research, and I haven’t personally talked with anyone who knows more. Until Effie Carlson. She’s an “eternal optimist” (her words) and I have no doubt at all that she will have a significant and positive impact on education in this state if she wins. When she wins…
Paula Pennypacker (who will face off against the winner of the Schwartz/Kavanagh primary) said she would come, but we literally ran out of days of school, so she’s coming in the fall.
Fred Duval (running in the governor’s race) also ran out of time but agreed to come. I have a phone conference scheduled with someone high up in his campaign on May 30th at 4PM to discuss education issues. Speaking of the race for governor, I participated in a tele-town-hall meeting with Doug Ducey, and I don’t think that he could possibly be more anti-public education. As far as education in this state goes, we better hope and pray that he doesn’t win.
The school year is over now, but I am going to continue my invitations over the summer. I also got invited to participate in an official “Take Your Legislators to School” event that is happening during a week in September (through AZ K-12, Rodel, AEA and the Arizona Educational Foundation). A legislator will be assigned to me and will come to school with me for a day. I have to go to “training” about it in June and participate in a webinar in August, both of which I am totally willing to do.
The results of this little experiment were overwhelmingly positive. Scott Smith, with whom I differ the most as far as politics goes, has emailed me an article and we’ve emailed back and forth about another issue. I hope to keep the lines of communication open with the others, as well. I am passionate about education, and it seems as if I am not the only one. It gives me great hope to know that there are politicians in this state who care enough about public education to spend a few hours in Ms. Marsh’s classes .