Education Opinion

Putting Your Money Where Your Beliefs Are: Teacher as Politician

By Nancy Flanagan — July 31, 2012 5 min read
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There is plenty of commentary out there bemoaning teachers’ lack of policy awareness and unwillingness to step up and defend their profession in the political sphere. So it’s intriguing to meet an educator--a Career and Technical Ed teacher--who’s willing to put his beliefs out there and launch a grueling run for a seat in the MI House of Representatives. Meet Dale Rogers: National Board Certified Teacher, candidate for 42nd District--and a Republican.

So let’s talk about the elephant (ha) in the room: you’re running as a Republican. What about the widespread belief that all teachers are crazy, liberal Democrats?

It’s not easy being a Republican teacher, especially lately, when it seems so many Republican governors and state legislators are intent on criticizing teachers and the public school systems. It’s one thing for Republicans to have an ideology that education should be a state/local issue and have the desire to minimize the role of the Federal government. It’s an entirely different issue when some Republicans want to strip away local control of schools and mandate non-productive policies from the state level. For the past 10 years or so I’ve preferred to refer to myself as an independent libertarian conservative.

I believe most teachers are conservative by nature and adhere to republican principles whether they realize it or not. Teachers believe in the strength of the individual and encouraging individual initiative. Teachers must be fiscally responsible, living within their classroom budgets. Plus most teachers are believers in autonomy and local control.

Are you running as an idealistic newcomer who hasn’t been sullied by political wheeling and dealing?

Perhaps I am running as an idealistic newcomer. I entered this race independently, without the encouragement of any political party or special interest group. But as a result I’ve been able to speak freely as my own person without feeling like I owe any favors. Of course it hasn’t hurt that I still have my teaching career in September if I should lose this race.

The makeup of the Michigan state legislature is such that many votes on education policies have been decided by just one or two legislators. Idealistic? Yes maybe, but one of my supporters has commented that I also seem fearless!

What’s the most important thing you can offer potential constituents, were you to win? What do you bring to the table that can make a positive difference in Lansing?

The most important thing I can offer my constituents is that I am one of them and will listen to them, plus heed their concerns on issues affecting the district. I truly believe we need more viewpoints in politics of regular day-to-day people. I believe in a citizen Legislature, and I’m a regular citizen.

I come from a humble background and was faced with some adversities in my youth. My parents both had disabilities. My mother was afflicted with polio as a child and my father lost his sight shortly after I was born. My father died when I was 17 years old. I think dealing with such adversities in my life will help me be mindful of adversities my constituents might be facing.

As one of my Facebook friends so kindly commented on my candidacy:

...I am so happy you are running for our legislature. I don't say this because I'm also a teacher. I say this because you are one of the everyday working Michiganders, and as a teacher, you've interacted with the wealthy and the poor. You have not viewed life only from a perspective of wealth. I believe we need this in politics."

Being a regular citizen who will be responsive to the will and intent of my constituents will make a positive difference for the people of my district.

Why do state legislators make such bad education policy? What would happen to education policy happen if more teachers ran for office?

When state legislators make bad education policy it is because they have never been a classroom teacher and they don’t seem to value the wealth of knowledge and experience that teachers could have on developing good policies. They seem to listen to so-called “experts.”

If more teachers ran for office, especially accomplished educators, it could make the general public more aware of the real issues facing schools, classrooms, and students. I think the general public relies a lot on their own past experience as students plus political ideology over empirical evidence when it comes to their views on education politics and policies.

Propose a policy solution--take your pick.

I believe that truly bringing education into the 21st century can solve many of our problems.

I decided to become a teacher because while I did OK in school, what I was supposed to be learning often didn’t make any sense to me. I knew there had to be a way to teach that would make school seem more valuable to kids that it had been to me. I want to make school different, a better experience for students like me.

To me 21st century education is not about technology, and it’s not about curriculum, standards or any of the other “trends” that come and go--21st century education is about acknowledging the needs and interests of the individual learner, to stop teaching subjects and abstract concepts in a vacuum, to give meaning to the learner.

A 21st century education is about taking the raw potential every learner has and developing that potential to its fullest, and recognizing the true value of a good interpersonal relationship between the teacher and the student.

We have to start focusing on the things that will benefit the learners for their lifetime. As David Warlick writes: “Should they know it in 20 years? ....If the honest answer is ‘No!’ then we’re just playing a game.” In education, time has been the constant and learning has been the variable. I want to shape policies where learning is the constant, the only important thing.

A 21st century education would have helped me become a much better student. I now want to make that kind of difference for all students in the state of Michigan. Currently I see no other way to be able to make that difference for students in my state of Michigan than to become a state legislator.

I truly believe my most important duty as a teacher is to be a positive role model for my students. What kind of role model am I if I don’t step up, put my beliefs and values out for the public to judge and seek to make a difference as an elected official?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.