Why Utah teachers are becoming political activists

By: Michele Jones

Teachers across America are becoming politically active at a wide range of levels, many for the first time.  Major concerns include funding lower-class sizes, making teacher salaries competitive, and increasing in-school supports.  Education is enshrined in the Utah state Constitution, which guarantees “a public education system, which shall be open to all children of the state.”  It also requires that the Legislature shall “provide for the establishment and maintenance of the state’s education systems.”

Education being funded and regulated primarily at the state and district level, many teachers now realize the importance of political influence in these realms. Some teachers are even running for state and local school boards, such as Tom Nedreberg, Craig Pitts, Ryan Anderson, Megan Ruff, and Pat Riley, while Kathleen Riebe is running for Utah Senate District 8.

Many more teachers are flexing their activist muscles in a variety of other ways. Some of these are are very public efforts, such as participating in rallies and protest marches, or collecting signatures for education-related ballot measures. In Utah, teachers collected over 160,000 signatures for the Our Schools Now campaign pushing for increased funding during the 2018 Legislative session.  The Legislature came to the table for a compromise, so Question 1 is on the November ballot. When asked if Utah teachers were going to ‘walk’ or strike, UEA President Heidi Matthews responded that Teachers are going to “walk to the polls.” Many teachers are working hard to encourage support FOR Question 1.

Other teachers extend political influence through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. These teachers are building networks of digital influence and connecting with decision-makers from local and state Boards of Education to State Legislators.  Some teachers lead and influence discussions on current education topics such as funding, accountability systems, teacher licensing, and school safety issues. An impressive example of this is Deborah Gatrell, a high school social studies teacher. She is a clear spokesperson for teacher leadership and school safety in conversations with decision-makers because she found opportunities to connect with board members and legislators online and in person and shared her informed voice with the public through social media, blogs and Op Eds, radio, Facebook Live panels, and podcasts.


Less publicly, many teachers are talking to friends and neighbors, sharing the great things happening in their classrooms and the challenges they face. Some also attend School Board meetings and email local representatives.  We hope all teachers will walk to the polls this Fall to vote for candidates that support strong public education. Increasing numbers of teachers are also joining teacher associations and unions, such as local NEA and AFT affiliates, to advocate for high quality education in a more organized and efficient manner.

Teaching is one of the most noble professions because teaching is an act of patience, hope and idealism.  As a teacher, I believe we are patient because student learning, especially things that really matter, takes time and concerted effort. We are hopeful because we believe all our students have the potential to be productive, knowledgeable citizens. We are idealistic because we believe our students will shape the future into a better world.

Together, teachers are a trusted voice and formidable political force.  We won’t give up, because to do so would mean giving up on our students.  We believe in our cause because our cause is to always improve the education we provide for our students and to create a brighter future.  As idealists, we know that even when we lose a battle we can still win the war.

Join with us in speaking up as classroom experts and education supporters.  The opportunities are countless, so find one that fits you now.

Join the Utah Teacher Fellows for a #UTEdchat Twitter chat on Teacher Advocacy and Involvement at 9 pm MDT on Wednesday the 18th.  We’ll talk more about ways to positively impact education for Utah children.

Request a Vote FOR Question 1 sign from Chase Clyde at UEA (chase.clyde@myuea.org) or at https://ourschoolsnow.com/.

Speak with your neighbors and share your students’ classroom needs on social media.

Find out who your local and state board members are and engage them in an email conversation, or better yet, attend a board meeting and speak with them in person.

We owe it to our kids.

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