By Lynette Yorgason
When I first decided I wanted to be a politically engaged teacher I felt excited, and also very intimidated. My first experience with political engagement was a national advocacy conference for English Language Learners. I was given background information, tips and tricks, and then suddenly I was standing alone outside of the congressional offices in Washington D.C. I don’t know that I have ever felt more terrified in my life. This experience scared me off of political engagement for at least a year.
Thankfully, since then my outlook has changed and my confidence has grown greatly. After being tutored by teachers with much more experience and confidence than me, I stepped back and took a first step of my own. That first step was attending an Education Interim Committee meeting. An interim committee meeting, as opposed to a committee meeting, is one that happens outside of the legislative session. All legislators are members of different committees and these committees meet throughout the year to hear about issues and proposals in how they can help in their designated areas. During the legislative session, committees hear all the bill proposals that pertain to their subject matter and decide whether or not they will end up being debated by the Senate and House of Representatives. The Education Committee, then, hears all bill proposals that pertain to education. If you are looking for ground zero in educational policy, this is the place.
Not only are these meetings important in terms of policy, they are also easy to go to, extremely non-threatening, and a little bit fun. It may seem like it’s impossible for teachers to be involved in the political process because the Legislature meets in January while we are teaching. The committees, however, meet all year long about once a month and teachers can much more easily attend interim committee meetings in the summer. Anyone can attend the meetings and they can be found easily on the Legislature’s website le.utah.gov by clicking Calendar and looking through each month.
Going to a committee meeting is non-threatening. When I went to my advocacy conference in Washington, D.C., I felt positive that the security guards would stop me from coming in because surely I didn’t belong there. A classic example of imposter syndrome, if I’ve ever heard one. If you’re like me and have a bad case of imposter syndrome, this is the best part of the political process to start with! All you have to do is go to a room, sit down, and listen. You don’t have to talk to anyone, you surely don’t have to testify in front of the legislators, and no one will ask you why you’re there. Since committee meetings are open to the public, it’s absolutely acceptable and expected for people to come and simply observe.
Finally, as much as you might not believe me, these meetings can be a little bit fun. If you’re a fan of people watching, a committee meeting allows you to watch legislators multi-tasking, people nervous about testifying, and all the people furiously taking notes for their bosses. If you’ve heard about certain legislators, it’s fun to see them in person and hear how they interact. I, for example, learned a lot about Senator Howard Stephenson through his anecdotes and passionately shared experiences that I never would have known without seeing and listening to him in person. If for no other reason, it’s fun to be in the Capitol building because it is absolutely gorgeous and full of passionate people who are there to serve you and your students.
If you want to get involved in the political process, attending an Education Interim Committee Meeting is a great first step. And if you can’t go in person, you can even find video of the meeting afterward through the links on the le.utah.gov calendar. The first step to being involved could be only a few clicks on your computer away.
For more background on what I learned when I went to my first Education Interim Committee Meeting, you can watch my vlog about it here. And if you like that vlog, feel free to give it a thumbs up and subscribe!
Lynette is a second year Utah Teacher Fellow. She is a social studies teacher who is also dedicated to providing opportunities to her students. She has created a National Honor Society chapter, ESL Department, and Computer Science department for her previous school. For the last four years Lynette has taught at Itineris Early College High School and will be moving to East High School in Salt Lake City this August. She is a self-proclaimed politics nerd who has absolutely watched The West Wing (multiple times) and has been secretly trying to find her Josh Lyman for several years.