Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Advice for Teachers on Talking to Policymakers

June 18, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Sandy Merz

I’m a teacher-leader. I think teachers, the membrane through which politics become practice, should influence policy. At the Arizona Stories from School Blog, I wrote a series on teachers who became policymakers (part 1, 2, and 3). As a member of the Arizona TeacherSolutions team, I’ve helped facilitate at the Arizona K12 Center’s Leadership Institute.

But I’m a fake. Other than one presentation to my school board, I’ve never spoken to policymakers beyond my school site. It’s time to weigh in on an issue that enhances or hinders learning in my classroom. But I need to learn how to access policymakers and how to be heard.

To begin, I called the local offices of Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Congressman Ron Barber, who was elected to the seat held by Gabrielle Giffords. I asked, “Among all the calls and letters that [the Senator or Congressman] receives, what do the ones that stay in his mind have in common?

They didn’t answer that question but offered great advice on access. Congressman Barber’s staffer told me I could attend a “Congress on the Corner” event and have a five minute meeting with the congressman. He said other states had similar events.

Senator McCain’s office has an outreach coordinator with whom citizen groups can meet. Groups may range in size from 10 to 100. The staffer said to put the group’s concerns in writing, and that an appropriate staff member would follow up and schedule a meeting.

Next, I talked with Kristie Martorelli, the 2012 Arizona State Teacher of the Year. Kristie had specific advice for talking with policymakers. First, she said, remember, “No one got into politics to do what’s bad for kids.” Try to start on the same page; for example, if you disagree with the politician’s stand, acknowledge the intent.

Be ready, be concise, and have a hook. Completely know and understand the issue, she advised. Politics are adversarial by nature, and policymakers are prepared to defend their stands and look for weaknesses in opponents’ arguments.

“Avoid starting with money or unions,” Kristie cautioned. And don’t go negative. Show passion but limit emotion, and keep in mind that statistics and data can carry the day. But making it personal with a story about a specific child can be powerful.

Regarding access, Kristie suggested talking to people your policymaker listens to. Consider, for example, meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, business associations, or active nonprofits. Attend conferences, even those unrelated to education, with the intent of making connections and finding allies.

Kristie addded you can learn a lot by attending meetings of your state’s Education Commission or school board. Some states and districts stream the meetings live. At a minimum, find the agendas, notes, or minutes of meetings. Bottom line: Know what policymakers are doing and saying to leverage what you do and say.

I’m pumped and have an issue. It’s time.

August (Sandy) Merz III, a National Board-certified teacher, teaches engineering and algebra and sponsors MESA at Safford K-8 International Baccalaureate Candidate School in Tucson, Ariz.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.

Events

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.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
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.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

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

Teaching Profession The Truth About Teachers' Summers
Teachers endure many misperceptions about their jobs. Perhaps the most egregious has to do with their summer break.
5 min read
Orange sandals by a pool.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words How This 'Goofy Science Teacher' Made It to the U.S. Open in Golf
High school science teacher and golf coach Colin Prater just played in one of the world's most prestigious golf tournaments.
6 min read
Colin Prater hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
Colin Prater hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
Frank Franklin II/AP
Teaching Profession Teachers: Start Your School Supplies Shopping Now With These Discounts
As teachers start back-to-school shopping, Education Week compiled a list of educator discounts that can reduce costs.
3 min read
Photo of school supplies.
iStock
Teaching Profession What Happened—and What Didn't—at This Year's NEA Representative Assembly
The unusual ending of the biggest assembly for the nation’s largest teachers’ union led to an incomplete annual meeting.
5 min read
Protestors gather outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, during the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly.
Protestors gather outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, during the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly.
Brooke Schultz/Education Week