I know It’s Hard – Stay Engaged Anyway

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Teaching is a hard job. We already know that. We’re tired before the school year even starts. We know that our job has only gotten harder in recent years and that’s not even counting the governor taking jabs at us at every given opportunity. These past few years have awoken a mass of educators to the perils that await us if we are not engaged.

So what now?

We have to stay engaged and fighting, especially as we work to win back the governor’s seat and in the lead up to session. It’s not enough to join the fight when session begins or as malicious legislation enters committee. This is Kentucky. We all love basketball right? Or we at least understand it. Think of session like March Madness.

Great teams aren’t made during the tournament. They practice and train for months and years to build up to a championship bid. It takes long hours of practice and an entire season worth of games to even get into the tournament. The problem with only staying active during session is that it’s like skipping your season and all of your practice and then thinking you can still make it to the championship game.

Teachers wait to enter the Annex during the 2018 Regular Session

Many educators are getting a crash course in how legislation works from how bills are made to even who the different legislators are. When I first became politically active at the state level, the only reason I knew who my Representative was is because she lived across the street from me! There’s nothing wrong with joining the game late and learning as you go. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help in understanding what is happening. It’s easy to try to look for quick answers, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as I entered this fight: there are no quick answers. All of the answers are long and have decades worth of history to sort through. The trick is to ask. We were all new to this at some point. When you miss your first free throw, you don’t quit playing altogether. You work and you practice and you learn what works for you. 

There are a lot of different ways you can stay engaged. As we lead up to the gubernatorial election, you can donate and volunteer with the campaign. Keep yourself up to date on the other races that are happening. My children and I canvassed neighborhoods for the Beshear campaign and none of the people we talked to knew there were other races besides the governor seat. Not a single one. And that’s not a judgement. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have known either! In addition to governor and lieutenant governor, other races on the ballot include attorney general, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, state treasurer, and state auditor for everyone in the state. 

The off season is also a great time to get to know your legislators. As a Kentucky resident, you have a House representative. There are 100 House representatives, with 61 Republicans and 39 Democrats. Jefferson has 18 representatives whose districts fall either entirely or partially in our county. You also have a state senator. There are 38 state senators with 29 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Yes nine, the single digit. Jefferson has 8 state senators, of whom 7 are Democrats. You can find out who your legislators are using the General Assembly website. If you have a legislator you want to talk to who isn’t in your district, oftentimes they’re willing to still meet with you. I’m always honest with legislators about my district and never lie about being a constituent. Most times, just being a teacher can be enough to get you a phone call or a meeting. For tips on how to talk to legislators, check our previous post from Metro Councilwoman Nicole George.

I have yet to have a legislator make me feel ignorant for asking a question. These relationships can become very important as we move through the next session when you have questions about whether or not a bill is dead or alive. When I ask questions, legislators rarely sugarcoat things and they’ve never lied to me when I reach out. It’s also important to remember that legislators won’t agree with you completely on everything and that’s okay! No one’s perfect, not even you. Sometimes you’ll need to reach out and talk to legislators who are in a different party than yours. These relationships are still valuable. You just have to stay on the topic of education.

When all else fails, just ask questions. If you see another educator engaged, ask what they’re doing and how they do it. That’s how I learned. I wasn’t magically born with the ability to navigate Frankfort. Not even the legislators were! There’s so much work to be done that I’ve never met another politically active teacher who refuses to help me learn the ropes. This is also a good time to look for a more active role in your union. Every person I’ve met within JCTA and KEA is knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to legislative issues.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey meeting with teachers during the 2019 Regular Session

The race is long. This is a marathon. We can’t sprint to the end when legislation that troubles us comes up during session. We have to be active and engaged in the months leading up. There is enough work to go around, so we all need to work together as we continue to fight for our kids.

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