Teaching is my life's work. I have spent 33 years in education, 31 of them teaching special education and elementary education. I am a state and nationally recognized teacher; a National Board Certified teacher and someone with extensive experience in the classroom.
I must admit that it was a long-awaited and welcomed surprise last fall when state Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, took to the road to listen to teachers. As a direct result of those visits, Osmond brought the education stakeholders to the table with Senate Bill 64, a four-month conversation and collaborative effort to improve public education in Utah.
Credit must also be given to the stakeholders the Utah State Office of Education, Utah School Boards and Utah School Superintendents associations and the Utah Education Association.
Why is this so remarkable for our teachers? At some point I had hoped the voice of experience and professionalism in classrooms and in our schools would be trusted, valued and understood. Listening to our public educators and sitting down with the education stakeholders represented a positive step in the right direction.
Prior to these meetings last fall, the influence of groups that have little or no experience in a classroom appeared to carry a greater standing than the voice of the professional or the evidence presented through research and data. Unfortunately, those voices outside education continue to be given greater value by some in the legislative body than the voice of the professional educators in our schools.
An example of the influence held by these groups could be seen in a recent Senate Education Committee meeting. During public testimony about an online learning bill, numerous individuals representing education experts expressed serious reservations about the legislation as written. They included public school administrators, charter school representatives and teachers. Only two spoke in favor of the bill, both representing organizations outside the education community.
Despite a reasoned appeal by a few legislators on the committee to hold the bill until concerns could be addressed, the majority voted to move the bill forward.
Superintendents, principals, teachers, school employees, school boards and the employees at the Utah State Office of Education possess experience, education and knowledge. We must stop ignoring the professionals. We must demand that the organizations and individuals that are intent on privatizing our public school system not be given greater standing in the eyes of some at the expense of support for the majority of students who attend our public schools.
We have precious few dollars to support our public schools. I appreciate that many good legislators are cognizant of this fact. However, the reality is that many dollars are being slowly siphoned away from the majority of our children to support unproven ideas with little or no accountability.
It is imperative that we continue to engage in positive, respectful and solution-oriented discourse as we endeavor to create a great public school for every child. It is disappointing, at best, when groups and individuals discredit our traditional public school teachers and their association. Members of the Utah Education Association are mostly Republican, parents, taxpayers and teachers. Members of the UEA want the same things for their children as the public we want excellence.
In order to move forward and create a great public school system, we need to commit to a healthy and productive dialogue and continue to collaborate. The UEA stands ready to do just that. I hope others will hear the call and do the same. We need to continue to listen to the group of professionals who are teaching our children and not only hold them accountable but trust them.
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh is president of the Utah Education Association and was the 2010 Utah Teacher of the Year.