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Today in the mail I received my June issue of "Minnesota Educator". I don't typically read it cover to cover but in this issue there was a great interview done by the National Education Association with my favorite Minnesota Representative, Tim Walz. As a teacher, he knows full well what solutions are needed to improve education and also what so called solutions have been absolutely unnecessary (see NCLB).

Check out some of the important highlights from that Q&A:

Unlike most members of Congress, Tim Walz of Minnesota knows his way around a classroom. He taught for 17 years until 2006, when he took a leave of absence from his teaching job and head coaching responsibilities at Mankato West High School in Mankato, MN, to run for Congress. Both Walz and his wife, Gwen, are NEA members. Congressman Walz, who represents the first congressional district in southern Minnesota, decided to run for office after he and his class were turned away from a presidential campaign rally. His campaign, his first ever, was fueled by a small army of current and former students who knocked on doors, made calls, raised and contributed money, and volunteered long hours. The result was one of the biggest upsets in the history of Minnesota politics.

Q. Many people have turned away from politics recently because of its negative reputation of "business as usual." Did you encounter that with other educators?

A. I hate to say it, but I think there has been a concerted effort by some people to try to make politics not seem like a noble profession. I think it's a public service much like teaching. We're here to try and make a difference and represent people and work as hard as we can. And I think a lot of people are just so sick of the partisanship, and that's why we are working very hard to open the process up to people, make it transparent, be as open as we can. We want to convince people that when they are talking about government and when they were talking about Washington, it's their neighbor; it's the guy teaching high school, it's the doctors, it's whoever. And we really want to reinstate that this does matter and that politics isn't a dirty thing; it's how we make our society function.

I couldn't agree more with Representative Walz on this one. We have long been lead to believe that anyone running for political office is corrupt and especially if that person is of a different political persuasion. Government is not inherently evil for if it is then it is we who have made it so. We are the government and any inequities or incompetence in that government is nothing more than a reflection upon us as a people. Once we start to realize that good government can come with good people we will be far better off as a people.

Q. So if you were talking with other education professionals about getting involved in politics, why would you say it's particularly important to get engaged, to take back their government at the local and national level?
A. Yes, there are some that did. I come from a long tradition of people back in my district and the state legislature who are educators either at the high school or college level. And so whenever I talk to groups of high school teachers, I do talk about the importance. Because teaching is a humble profession, many of us sell ourselves short on what we can do, and I don't think we should. I find we are well versed, as I said, on the issues and I think we have a strong work ethic, we can articulate, we HAVE to build coalitions, and as I said, we are the thriftiest people on the planet. So, yeah, I think some are getting more excited and saying, "Yeah, I think I can do this." The bottom line is after years of people pounding on public educators, of trying to undermine people's faith in us, the public still trusts us, and they trust us almost above all professions because they know that we care. And I think that is something that can be brought back into politics.

Q. Turning your attention to the pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, what would you say to other educators about getting involved? What's your advice?
A. Demand that people like me come out in front of them and hear the stories that are happening in the classroom. They need to demand open forums, they need to demand that as they are writing letters and calling, they are getting the attention that it needs. This is a critically important piece of legislation and I still feel like, for the most part, unfortunately, that it's being written without necessarily as much input from teachers as there should be. Educators are the first people that want to improve student achievement, but some of the things being proposed, for example, that you're going to be able to keep better teachers through performance pay, there's several things wrong with that. We didn't take an oath of poverty but we also have issues about the increased amount of paperwork, the increased testing that's distracting us, the narrowing of the curriculum where I find myself fighting to make geography relevant, all of those things. And I think other teachers need to realize it matters when they speak to their members [of Congress]. Call them to speak and have a frank discussion, and expect them to know your issues, to understand when you are talking about multiple measures what that means or we hold up a calendar of what it looks like in Mankato or somewhere else and see that every month is filled with testing. They need to get involved; they need to do it now. This is a critical time.

The most important statement in this answer is that educators are not being given the input they deserve in crafting a system that works. Too often these reforms are written by those with no classroom experience and are so unrealistic that they are doomed from the beginning to fail.

Also, that we as educators need to take it upon ourselves to be in constant contact with our state and national leaders so that they understand what will and will not work. If we are unwilling to do these things we will continue to have our job defined by those who yell the loudest and who typically have no experience with educating children.

Incidentally, we should not become complacent about recent polling that shows Walz with a substantial lead over his nearest competitors. We need Tim Walz in the United States House of Representatives to fight for working folks, for us as fellow educators, and for continued common sense governance. I encourage everyone to keep him in mind when looking for candidates to send contributions.
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