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Take Your Legislator to School ~ Beth Maloney

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Beth Maloney is currently in her fifteenth year of teaching and enjoys every minute of her time in the classroom. She’s taught kindergarten, third grade, and is currently teaching fifth grade at Sunset Hills Elementary School in the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise,  Arizona. Beth is a National Board Certified Teacher as an Early Childhood Generalist and is a Candidate Support Provider for candidates around the state. Beth organizes and presents at various conferences and events. She is honored to be the 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year and appreciates having had the opportunity to represent the amazing teachers of Arizona.
Would you invite a legislator into your classroom? I did – and I would do it again. Teachers must make their voices heard, and speak for what is best for our students.  Education organizations and teachers in Arizona understand that our law and policy makers have often not been in a classroom since they were students themselves – so we created an annual “Take Your Legislator to School Day.”  We identified interested teachers in each legislative district and built trainings (on-line and in-person) on delivering a message, communication, and day of visit details. All of our hard work paid off.

While I was on the steering committee, I waited anxiously for my local legislator to visit my fifth grade classroom.  When he arrived, I gave him a fact sheet: how many students are in my classroom, how many are identified as gifted or language learners, how many have IEPs or 504 plans, how many in the foster care system or are homeless, etc.  He was surprised to see the variety of the needs of my group of learners.  As he observed my lesson on civic responsibilities, I did what I do best – teach!  I gave him a list of things to watch for as I taught my lesson: how I engage my students, communicate the lesson’s goals to my students, explain instructions so students understand and check for understanding, build relationships with my students, etc.  I wanted to teach him that although good teaching looks easy, what takes place during a good lesson is complex.

My advice for any teacher is to ask a policymaker to visit your classroom.  Ask again.  Persistence pays off.  Have an agenda for the day and allow the legislator to approve it in advance so nothing feels like a surprise.  Involve your school community.  After spending time in my classroom, I had eighth graders take our legislator on a tour, then he meet with our PTO, and stopped into classrooms at a variety of grade levels.  Be sure to speak to your principal and superintendent in advance.  They may have connections.  Be polite.  My legislator really enjoyed the “swag bag” with a Sunset Hills water bottle and pencils from our PTO.  Sustain the relationship through correspondence and invite them to return.  When my legislator returns in a few weeks, I will focus on the specific challenge of meeting my gifted learners’ needs.  Connect everything back to your students.

My ninety colleagues around Arizona who participated described the experience as rewarding and enlightening.  Many have maintained positive relationships beyond the initial visit.  Some legislators are working with their host to plan to teach lessons on voting, the branches of government, campaigning, and more.  Our hope is that these policymakers will have our students’ faces in their minds when they are making important policy and fiscal decisions.  We are anticipating the second annual “Take Your Legislator to School” event in September.  Will you invite a policymaker into your classroom to build a relationship and collaboratively seek positive outcomes for your students?