An educator helped me find my voice, now I help educators elevate theirs

Ten years ago I sat in Mr. Jerry Reed’s Advanced Placement Government class at Alamosa High School. I was waiting for my turn to present my bill on water conservation in Colorado. There aren’t too many high school projects that I can point to that profoundly changed my life, but this was one of them. The assignment was to work with a fellow “Congressman/woman” to address an issue in my state and a colleague’s state. The bill was a good bill that didn’t have a huge price tag or obvious negative consequences. But, my “party” opposed the bill simply because it had the opposition party’s support. I was furious. I scolded the members of my caucus about the pettiness of partisanship and the stubbornness to let something with positive impact fail.

It was a pivotal moment in my life. The purpose of the exercise, I know now, was to simulate the federal legislative process. But, I learned so much more. I found my voice, my passion, and a new perspective on teachers’ impact on student lives.

Today I work with educators across Colorado to elevate their voices and to transform the policymaking process where teachers and principals always have a seat at the table.

America Achieve’s Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship gets to the core of the issue: Educators are the boots on the ground; they see firsthand what student successes and failures look like. Educators know better than anyone else how students learn today and what educators need to succeed.

In my day-to-day work, I help connect educators with policymakers, thought leaders, and decision-makers in education policy. Just this year, two Colorado Educator Voice Fellows led the charge on HB 1201, which gives school districts the option to provide qualifying students with a STEM diploma endorsement; three Fellows are working with Stand for Children Colorado to improve literacy rates across Colorado; and, numerous Fellows either provided testimony at the State Capitol or at the State Board of Education and composed op-eds, essays, and blogs addressing Colorado’s education policies.

But there’s more work to do.

Colorado faces many difficult education issues — an exacerbating teacher shortage, a broken funding system, and a changing economy. At the forefront of each of these issues are educators. That’s why the Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship continues to elevate educator voices. Over the past few months, we worked with the Colorado Department of Education and partner organizations to form the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet, giving educators across the state the opportunity to advise CDE on many of these unresolved issues. It’s work like this that proves educator voices are valuable in the policy and decisionmaking process.

For me, though, the work all ties back to the lessons I learned in Mr. Reed’s A.P. Government class: To make change you have to find and elevate your voice.

He taught me the basic elements of advocacy and empowerment. It’s only fitting that I use what Mr. Reed taught me to work with Colorado educators to elevate their voices so all stakeholders can help make our educational systems better.