Lessons from the Roundhouse: Teachers Are No Monolith

by Amanda Aragon │Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

The halls of the Roundhouse were bustling this past Saturday as the House and Senate Education Committees hosted a joint hearing to learn from New Mexico educators.

Approximately 100 teachers, administrators, and school staff attended the hearing. Educators from across the state shared their concerns, hopes, and ideas with the 21 legislators on both committees.

While I didn't agree with all that was shared, I was struck by the diversity and passion from everyone. Here are my top five takeaways from the hearing:

1

No One Has A Monopoly on Teacher Voice. While there were certainly common themes from teachers, there was also a diversity of thought & opinion on key issues such as systems of evaluation, performance rewards ("Exemplary Teacher Awards"), and performance-based advancement through New Mexico’s teacher licensure system, as recommended by HB177.

2

There Are Many Layers to Policy Making. Understanding the many (often too many) layers of policy-making makes advocacy difficult. Especially when we can't find the precise source of our frustration. Unfortunately, many teachers expressed concerns stemming from school or district-level policies that are not under the purview of the Legislature or Public Education Department. Us advocates must do a better job of pinpointing areas of confusion and where change is truly needed.

3

Advocacy is Intimidating. Committee hearings or meetings with individual legislators can be powerful tools. They are also daunting for the uninitiated. This fear falls away with just a bit of preparation and knowledge. A few tips I find helpful are:

  • Learn the protocol for addressing legislators. All commentary should be directed through the chair. For example, in the house education committee, chaired by Representative Garcia-Richard, you'd begin with “Madame Chair, members of the committee … ”;
     
  • Use your time most effectively by stating your name, role, and your interest or concern at the beginning of your comments;
     
  • Deliver remarks with a calm and respectful tone. Legislative decorum is typically straightforward, direct communication; and
     
  • Different forms of advocacy are more impactful than others. The graphic below will help you choose the right tactic for your intended outcome.
 
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4

Misinformation Runs Amok. Throughout the hearing I heard several factually inaccurate statements, including several about our teacher evaluation system and education funding. When teachers don’t have a clear understanding or accurate information on how policies work, it is near impossible to provide meaningful feedback to those who craft and pass policy. Two major inaccuracies that stood out were:

  • It is clear that many teachers still believe the current evaluation system is based on proficiency and not student growth. New Mexico teachers are not evaluated on whether or not students pass the PARCC exam, but rather whether an individual student makes progress from their prior year’s performance; and
     
  • Many in New Mexico believe we are one of the worst states when it comes to education funding. This is inaccurate. In fact, New Mexico provides more per-pupil funding than all of our neighboring states.
 
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5

Key Voices Are Still Missing. Parents and students were startling missing from this important forum. While it is admirable that the legislature came together on a Saturday to hear from teachers without pulling them out of their classrooms, our legislators missed an opportunity to engage with those who are most impacted by their decisions, our students.


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Amanda Aragon - NewMexicoKidsCAN

Amanda is Executive Director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, which serves as a catalyst and conduit to advocate for community-informed, student-centered and research-backed education policies that work best for the children of New Mexico. By connecting policy, instructional practice and politics, they reimagine what is possible in New Mexico’s public education system.