When is a teacher no longer functioning as a teacher? I would argue that I ALWAYS represent my school district. I don’t drink alcohol, but I have bought alcohol before, and I remember running into the mom of one of my students as I was purchasing two bottles of wine, and I was totally embarrassed.
This woman only knew me as her son’s teacher, so was I acting on behalf of my district or not?
I could honestly argue that either way: Yes, I was acting on behalf of the district because that’s the only role the mother knows about me; or No, I was not functioning in my role as a teacher because I was there on my own time, minding my own business.
For the past few days, I’ve been wondering when I am “acting on behalf of a school district” and when I’m not, because that’s one of the phrases in Senate Bill 1172 that’s concerning.
According to the amendments to the bill, I would not be able to act on “behalf of a school district…to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”
So, in the above scenario, would I be allowed to answer mom’s questions about upcoming bills? You’d be surprised how often I am asked my opinion on such matters, by the way. I couldn’t COUNT the number of people who flat-out asked me whom they should vote for in our past school board election, for example.
If I would NOT be in violation, but even suspected that I might be, I probably would not answer the mother, because the penalty is “not to exceed” $5000.
Sorry, folks, but I don’t even HAVE $5000. So the bill would effectively shut me up, simply because the penalty is so high. Which begs the question of why is the fine so high? Even most DUI fines are not nearly that high. So are we to assume that voicing concern about upcoming legislation is worse than driving drunk?
What about if (when?) a seriously alarming bill comes at us? Something that I, as a teacher with over 20 years of experience, think is destructive to students? How could I, in good conscience, NOT voice my concern to the people it directly impacts: parents of students? I’d need to quit teaching before I simply sat back and remained mute over bills that might be damaging to kids. (And here’s a quick example: in some states, teachers have to post “Data Walls,” which publicly ranks kids on certain tests. It’s humiliating to the students, seems as if it would violate 1000 FERPA laws, and teachers with whom I am spoken to hate it. What if something like that hits AZ? I’m sorry, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on that.)
To be clear, most teachers do not talk to students about political candidates. In the past two presidential elections, I had students literally begging me to tell them whom I was voting for. I said, “No. It’s none of your business.” In the past election, even though I campaigned hard-core for a school board candidate on my own time, my students did not know whom I was campaigning for, or that I was campaigning at all.
My point is that teachers do not go around trying to brainwash their students. Even if we deep-down DESIRED to do that, it would be far too stupid. There are too many political views, too much risk in offending parents, too much risk in being offended by parents’ votes. I don’t want to know whom my students parents voted for: it has no place in the classroom.
But bills? Bills that may be destructive for certain groups of students?
To be unable (or even too afraid to) advocate for our students is just crazy.
We know, in this state in particular, that crazy bills sometimes get through one chamber, before getting killed in the other chamber…or not killed at all and then becoming law.
It’s crazy to stifle the people whose job it is to advocate for their students.
It’s crazy to not allow those people the ability to try to stop crazy laws.