Federal Opinion

Even If They Lose, Teachers Who Run for Office Score a Win

By Todd Alan Price — November 08, 2018 3 min read
Missouri teacher Conon Gillis lost his election bid to the state Senate earlier this week.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When the tallies from the teacher wave election rolled in on Nov. 6, it became clear, as Education Week reported, that educator candidates had garnered significant victories but also notable defeats.

As someone who teaches educators, this hit home with me because I once ran for statewide elected office to champion education issues.

I lost. But it was a positive experience, a crash course in politics, and a chance to get out in front of an attentive statewide audience and advocate for education. And that’s only the beginning.

It began when a politically oriented friend approached me to run in a five-way primary for Wisconsin’s state superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction—a top state office. After some trepidation, I agreed.

Just by getting into the race, teachers bring education into the public eye."

Newspapers asked for my positions. Radio and television stations invited me on air for interviews, and they reported the race fairly. Perhaps because it was an open primary—which doesn’t require candidates to have a party affiliation to run—and perhaps because politics was less acrimonious in 2009, the race stayed high-level, and the candidates talked issues without diving into attacks. The candidates, the media, and the voters stayed respectful, and the campaign process worked.

I learned early on that a campaign is a “we,” not an “I.” I affiliated at that time with the Green Party and Progressive Dane (a local political party based in Madison—the state capital) to gather signatures, make phone calls, and get out the vote. We spent less than $10,000, but we put our pro-education message out there.

One of the candidates favored school vouchers, and I countered by advocating excellence and vibrancy in the public school system. Indulge me for a moment here, but I like to think that my passionate backing of public schools may have nudged the winning candidate in that race, Tony Evers, to take a stronger stance in favor of them.

For teachers who won or lost Tuesday, or for those considering running in the future, know that this is where you can make a difference. Teachers can change the conversation. Just by getting into the race, teachers bring education into the public eye. If they speak up for students and schools, they lay the groundwork for education—an issue that should be critical in present and future campaigns—to become top of mind for voters.

During this last campaign, a bilingual teacher named Mary Edly-Allen, who ran for a House seat in Illinois’ 51st district, wisely observed to me that teachers have honed qualities that make them good legislators: common sense and the ability to hear different points of view and challenge one’s thinking, learn something new, civilly disagree, and find solutions.

As of Wednesday, Edly-Allen appears to have lost her bid by one vote, 25,106 to 25,105. That’s a civics lesson in itself—every vote does count. Edly-Allen was motivated to run because she opposes arming classroom teachers with guns and sadly, her incumbent opponent favors that position. There’s no word yet on whether Edly-Allen will demand a recount, but even if she loses, she wins, in a sense. She put students, teachers, and education—and tolerance—on the agenda in a district in which observers found racist slurs on the incumbent’s Facebook account, according to media reports.

This election season, Wisconsin delivered a ringing victory for educators. My former opponent, Tony Evers, a lifelong educator and former classroom teacher whom I enthusiastically supported this time, won a nail-biter against incumbent Gov. Scott Walker. Walker made national news for cutting education budgets and leading the destructive 2011 effort to gut teachers’ unions and reduce funding for higher education. Walker’s approach has shown a lack of respect and support for teachers. It’s emblematic of how the political establishment has left education professionals behind, which is what spurred this year’s teacher strikes and motivated hundreds of teachers to run for office. Governor-elect Evers’ victory signals that students, teachers, and schools will become a priority.

While celebrating the teachers who won office, educators must think about the future, and how to reach out to those who voted “no.” After all, their children sit in our classrooms, too. I salute every educator who had the courage to run in this election, and I encourage others to consider it for next time. Teachers already have the skills as well as the passion to make our world better one student at a time. They can accelerate that process by stepping up to leadership.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Opinion 'Jargon' and 'Fads': Departing IES Chief on State of Ed. Research
Better writing, timelier publication, and more focused research centers can help improve the field, Mark Schneider says.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Electric School Buses Get a Boost From New State and Federal Policies
New federal standards for emissions could accelerate the push to produce buses that run on clean energy.
3 min read
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet reduces over 120,000 pounds of carbon emissions and leverages The Mobility House's smart charging and energy management system.
A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency sets higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles. By 2032, it projects, 40 percent of new medium heavy-duty vehicles, including school buses, will be electric.
Business Wire via AP
Federal What Would Happen to K-12 in a 2nd Trump Term? A Detailed Policy Agenda Offers Clues
A conservative policy agenda could offer the clearest view yet of K-12 education in a second Trump term.
8 min read
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome, Ga. Allies of the former president have assembled a detailed policy agenda for every corner of the federal government with the idea that it would be ready for a conservative president to use at the start of a new term next year.
Mike Stewart/AP
Federal Opinion Student Literacy Rates Are Concerning. How Can We Turn This Around?
The ranking Republican senator on the education committee wants to hear from educators and families about making improvements.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty