The Importance of Being Politically Involved
by Kevin Lind, UMF-SEAM
In the last month, I have found myself becoming much more engaged in some of the political issues that educators face. Before starting an internship with the MEA, I wasn’t fully aware of how many problems everyone working in education face. From budget cuts to attacks on educators, it seems like everyone, including elected officials, are trying to use educators as scapegoats. It is vital for educators to be involved in local, state, and national politics. Otherwise, changes will be made to the education systems that will hurt educators and students alike. Without educators to get involved, education will continue in a downward spiral.
There are really two major issues that have recently been affecting education. The one that has been receiving the most attention by the media are the changes to the rules for restraint and seclusion. The changes have made it difficult for teachers to know when to restrain students. The main issue is that many school districts aren’t willing to have students restrained at all, for fear of lawsuits. The MEA’s stance is in favor of reasonable changes that have been suggested by Sen. Tom Saviello, giving more leniencies in situations where property can be damaged and classes are being disrupted, rather than only being allowed in situations of “imminent harm.”
The other significant issue that has faced educators is the Governor’s recent biannual budget. The two big issues with it are cuts to the education budget and flat funding for education. The flat funding is what will hurt education more than anything else. Essentially, flat funding will cause the education budget to remain the same for the next two years, regardless of changing costs in expenses like heating oil and gas for buses. Educators and students alike are in favor of education receiving more funds, so it is no surprise that many are opposed to the currently proposed budget.
The biggest reason to get involved is to be an advocate for you. As a future educator, I look at some of the problems we are facing and can’t help but worry. It is up to student members to become more engaged to defend their futures. Beyond this, students should also be thinking about their future students. I know it’s cliché to say the children are our future, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Standing up for education means that you are trying to build a better future. Even though politicians and political correspondences are bashing educators, I’m sure each of them had a teacher that helped them learn how to do what they do.
Specifically for student members, getting out and becoming involved in the politics of education is a great way to start networking. In the short time that I have been working with the MEA, I have heard many stories from educators about why certain changes cannot happen. Along the way, I have also learned a lot about how to make important decisions like deciding where to student teach. These conversations may be enough to help you understand what you are truly getting yourself into.
A lot of what I have done has been as a intern with the MEA, but there are also many ways for students members to get involved with the political side of things. For instance, students can easily send an email or call the office of a local senator or representative to express concern over education legislation and tell their elected officials opinions. Also, it is important for student members to go and show support at public hearings at the state house in Augusta (if you have transportation).
Some will say that our education system is broken or compare our teachers to the success rates of Finnish educators. The reason Finnish teachers are so successful is because they are so highly valued. In Finland, teachers are held to the same level of respect as doctors and lawyers. If educators come together to support the cause of furthering education, then hopefully legislators will see the time and effort they put in everyday. If our senators and representatives can just see how much we work, I’m sure they will finally understand why they shouldn’t cut education.