This election year saw a massive wave of educators seeking political office, many for the first time.
Three of those educators shared their experiences from the campaign trail at an Education Week event last week: R. Travis Brenda, a high school math teacher from Kentucky; Aimy Steele, a former elementary principal in North Carolina; and John Waldron, a high school social studies teacher in Oklahoma.
“It’s so important for teachers to really raise up and understand that we all have a voice, but we’re not going to get that voice heard by sitting by and playing nicely,” Steele said. “We have to engage in the action.”
Brenda, a Republican, and Waldron, a Democrat, were both elected to their state Houses last month. (Brenda defeated the state House majority leader who co-authored a controversial pension reform bill in the GOP primary.) Steele, a Democrat, lost her race to an incumbent by just about 2,000 votes.
Nearly 180 current K-12 teachers ran for their state legislatures this year, according to an Education Week analysis. Many of those candidates were in states that saw widescale teacher activism this year, and were eager to bring their fights for school funding and pay raises to the legislatures. Still, just 43 teachers won their races.
“We get organized. That’s what teachers do,” Waldron said about the next steps for educators. “We learned a lot, we’ve built a lot [during the campaigns], and we’re going to build on that in 2020 and 2022, because this doesn’t end.”
Years of working as classroom teachers helped the educators on the campaign trail, and the newly elected legislators said those skills will help them as they take office, too.
“As educators, we’re used to stepping into the classroom every day and whatever we face that day, we meet head on, and we do the best that we can at the time,” Brenda said. “It’ll be no different in the legislature.”
Brenda, Waldron, and Steele discussed their motivations for running for office, their thoughts on the future of teacher activism, and their legislative priorities in a conversation with Education Week reporter Daarel Burnette and me. You can watch the full discussion below:
(This clip includes a special video appearance by Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year who was recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for her home state of Connecticut.)
This conversation took place at Education Week’s post-election event, “2020 Vision: Education Policy and Politics Beyond the Midterms.” Find out more about the event here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.