My experience in teaching includes policies dropped on my desk from a far away place called “the state capitol”. Got disrupted learning? Legislation. Mandated to teach comprehensive sexuality education? Legislation. Common core got you flummoxed? Legislation.
If you wish to have a voice in your school, you need to be savvy. If you want to be an empowered educator, you will have to spend some time reading and researching. Spending just one hour a week reading recent rulings, legislation or proposed policy changes is all it takes to begin the journey toward being a savvy teacher, and thus an empowered one.
Let me give you an example from my own research, which was spurred on by subtle changes occurring in my profession.
First, I familiarized myself with my state’s government website. Yikes, you might say! It does take a bit of time and effort, but it is well worth it because you’ll no longer have to rely on the barely half-page “report” on legislation your teachers’ union magazine provides you, nor their online version. You can read testimonies, bills, and appropriations for yourself and form your own opinion.
Bills are categorized with “HB”( a bill originating in the house of representatives) or “SB” (a bill originating in the senate). They are also assigned a number. You’ll need to know what year the bill was brought to the floor, and its number to do a search for it.
However, you can also access your state’s statutes without knowing a specific bill number. Usually, all of a states’ laws regarding education will be under one “chapter” and searchable from there by specific subject, such as “discipline” or “teacher certification”. (And then there are the administrative rules for applying the laws – which outnumber the actual pages of laws there are by quite a bit – but that’s for another day.)
I went to OregonLegislature.gov and searched for HB2192, 2013 to learn more about what’s at the root of “disrupted learning”. This bill dramatically changed discipline policies in Oregon schools. I was able to read the text of the actual bill. But I didn’t stop there. I wanted to know who supported the bill at the assigned committee hearing.
Support for or opposition to a bill is heard before committee members, and known as testimonies. These hearings are public record, and your state government website should include them in a link along with the bill’s text. It is here you find whether or not the teacher’s union is supporting a bill (aside from sponsorship). Citizens and other organizations testify on bills, and their testimonies can help you understand the bill itself from different points of view.
In the case of HB2192, the testimony in favor given by the ACLU , reveals the left-leaning nature of the bill. The Youth, Rights and Justice organization was also in favor of the bill (YRJTestimony). I agree there is a need for legal aid to some parts of our youth population. However, both of these organizations, as well as the Oregon Department of Education, (in its testimony), completely ignore the rights and needs of well-behaved, hard-working children in classrooms. Who is protecting their right to learn without disruption? And who is protecting teachers from harm?
A little bit of time spent digging up the sponsors, supporters and promoters of state legislation will equip you with the ability to speak knowledgeably about topics directly affecting your everyday work in the classroom. You will perhaps become the most savvy person on your staff on such issues – share your source: the simple act of going online and accessing the public records on proposed and existing legislation in your state.
Hopefully, you will access this source before bills become law, before your teacher’s union puts its own spin on what is going on. My dear colleagues here in Oregon, in large part (I’m guessing), have no idea what is contained in HB3427 , which became law in 2019, yet thousands of them agreed with their union to walk out (May 8, 2019) on their students in support of it.
Think about the most recent bill that has become law in your state. Right now, comprehensive sexuality education is pinging around many state capitols. What’s it all about? Is it good for kids? For parents? For teachers? Will you merely let your union spoon feed you their message, or will you choose to be a savvy teacher, and thus an empowered one!