Leadership Policy
A Day on the Hill
April 18, 2017
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Maureen Henderson
@MaureenHender18

I have never considered myself a very political person, but my work this past year as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow has ignited in me a new interest in the connection between educational policy and practice. One of Hope Street Group’s beliefs is that teacher input in policymaking impacts both teachers and students. The Fellowship is designed to improve education by making sure teacher voices are heard.

As a veteran teacher of nineteen years, I had always been under the impression that a classroom teacher had absolutely no involvement in state initiatives and education policies. In fact, over the years, I have heard colleagues make comments like, “It’s just something new THEY are telling us we have to do.” Assuming that THEY were the people at the state level (those in legislative positions etc.), I never imagined that those same people may actually want to hear from “us,” the teachers.  

SCORE Student Achievement Day on the Hill was revolutionary for me as a teacher!  Not only do policymakers want to hear from educators, but they are truly listening to what we say. I had the great honor to sit in several meetings and talk personally with five amazing representatives! Although each representative had very unique personalities, a common characteristic was that each one of them was eager to hear our concerns. The questions they asked were sincere in seeking to clarify why we thought they should or should not support a particular bill.

I have developed a greater appreciation for what our legislature does each day.  In fact, in a way, I feel they are a lot like teachers. Just as our list of responsibilities never ends—not only do we have to teach a lesson, manage discipline, analyze data, collaborate with peers, serve on committees, the list goes on and on—the same is true for our legislators. They are faced with so many responsibilities beyond education policy. There were droves of individuals from different businesses and organizations lined up waiting for a few minutes of their attention, hoping to impact the hundreds of decisions they face.

Representative John Forgety, of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, our introductory speaker that morning, made the perfect analogy. He asked us to reflect on a student for whom we have gone the extra mile, spent extra time, encouraged, and supported. How often do we receive recognition or praise from that parent? Yet, one unfortunate incident or circumstance in that child’s school day, and the parent is often quick to call and voice anger at the teacher/administration and demand justice. Just as teachers can often feel underappreciated, that is indeed how policymakers must sometimes feel. I can only imagine the number of phone calls, letters, and emails they must have received in the wake of the state testing debacle last year. I wonder how that number would compare with the amount of gratitude they got for supporting a salary increase for teachers this year.

In conclusion, for me the theme of the SCORE Student Achievement Day on the Hill was relationship building. Representative Forgety also made an extraordinarily powerful point when he gave all the educators in the room that day a test.  The test was simple:

  1. List the three richest individuals in the U.S.
  2. Name the last three Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Who were the three most recent winners of the Mrs. America pageant?

Not one person in the room made a 100% on that test. Then Representative Forgety asked us to take the following test:  

  1. Name your favorite elementary school teacher.
  2. List the name of your high school principal.
  3. Who was an educator who made a difference in your life?

 

His point was crystal clear to me. Relationships are what make a difference. I believe educators desperately want support and respect from policymakers, and in turn, I believe policymakers crave the same. The time has come for us to bridge the gap between “us” and “them.” Together we must continue building relationships and having critical conversations about policy and practice. Together we can make a difference in the lives of our great students in the state of Tennessee.

Maureen teaches fourth grade at Greenbrier Elementary School in Robertson County. Previously, she taught sixth grade at Greenbrier Middle School. She has been an educator in Robertson County for seventeen years. Maureen has served as a grade level leader and as a chair for the school’s math committee. During the 2015­-16 school year, Maureen served in the capacity of teacher representative for the Hope Street Focus Group and the Tennessee Teacher Leader Network. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Georgian Court College and Master’s degree in school counseling from Western Kentucky University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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