Feel intimidated by the idea of advocacy? Many do. Our guest on today's episode of Teaching with CLASS, Jake Stewart, explains the importance of using your voice to make change & easy ways to take action. Whether you're talking to Members of Congress, creating a TikTok, or simply talking to a family member, your voice as an educator matters.
Jake is the Director of State Government Relations at the Early Care & Education Consortium and has also spent time in the classroom as a middle school teacher in New Mexico. Listen to his full episode here, or scroll down to read the transcript from today's recording.
Kate: Hi, everyone. I'm Kate Cline from Teachstone, and welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast. Let's take a moment to think. When was the last time that you raised your voice about what's happening in education? Not raise your voice in the classroom. We don't want to create a negative climate, of course.
What I mean is, when was the last time you used your voice to make a difference for the education field? It can be scary to speak out even when we know we have important things to say. We just vent to our coworkers, which changes nothing. But what would happen if we spoke out in a way that would support positive, necessary changes?
Today we're talking about advocacy with Jake Stewart. He's the Director of State Government Relations at the Early Care & Education Consortium, but he started out in the classroom, just like you and me. Today's episode is a little longer than usual, so you might want to listen on your way to and from work. I know one thing for sure, though. You won't want to miss a moment, so let's get started.
Welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast, Jake. I'm really excited to have this conversation with you here today.
Jake: Thank you so much for inviting me. I'm excited to be here.
Kate: It's going to be awesome. Before we dive into the nitty gritty of advocacy, tell us please a little bit about yourself and your journey.
Jake: Currently, I work for a childcare nonprofit. It's called the Early Care & Education Consortium, where I am director of state's policy and government affairs. I'm very focused on the state side of things, which we know is very influential over early learning and childcare policy.
Prior to that, I worked for a different nonprofit, Child Care Aware of America, where I did very similar work but on the federal side. I was working a lot on the federal advocacy, talking to Members of Congress or their staff, and trying to get childcare and early learning to be an issue that they would pay attention to.
Before that, I actually worked in Congress for a little bit. I worked for a senator from New Mexico, Senator Tom Udall. I worked there for a couple of years as a junior staffer. A lot of it was answering phone calls, giving tours, a little bit of policy work here and there, but a lot of it was administrative.
That work really helped me understand Congress a lot better than I did before. You can study politics, but I've come to realize that until you're in the belly of the beast, it is really hard to get a grasp on exactly what's happening.
Before that, I actually started off in the classroom. I was an educator myself. I taught middle school math. A lot of people, of course, have a lot of thoughts about middle school. I really enjoyed teaching the students. I think it really worked well with my personality. However, that was the first time that I really realized how important the early years were.
I think often when we are teaching—I was in a low income area or rural areas while I was teaching in New Mexico—I realized that even at the seventh and eighth grade level that my students were missing a lot of skills that I didn't have time to teach them.
Of course, as teachers, we still try to teach them, but we also are up against the curriculum we might have to teach. That was my first aha moment that investing in those early years from preschool, to childcare, to even K-3, it's really, really crucial. I wanted to go into the advocacy space, and that's what led me here.
Kate: That's awesome. Oh, my gosh, what a journey. You started out in the classroom the way that our listeners as a teacher. It's really important. Trying to get in that frame of mind of I'm just a teacher in my classroom, what difference can I make? And to know that you've gone through so many steps to where you are now, aware of and impacting what's happening in states, nations, for classroom teachers. That's so amazing, that journey.
Anyway, can you help us then, as educators, understand what advocacy is all about? Give us the starting point.
Jake: I'm actually going to divide this into two categories. There is the formal advocacy that I think sounds really intimidating. That's when we're talking about advocating the Members of Congress and getting them to invest in kids.
I think that's really intimidating because a lot of people are scared to speak government. There's a lot of terminology. Honestly, before I actually started working for Congress, I really didn't understand what was going on half of the time, either, especially when your mind is preoccupied with your students and actually teaching.
There's the formal advocacy, but there's also informal advocacy. This is oftentimes the most powerful form of advocacy. This is when we are educating people within our networks about certain issues that help them learn more and potentially even become advocates themselves. That could be as simple as a conversation with a family member or a friend about the issues that you're up against as an educator, getting them to even understand what your world looks like and the pressures that you have as a teacher. Because at the end of the day, we really need more voices in this.
That could be as simple as a conversation with a family member or a friend about the issues that you're up against as an educator... at the end of the day, we really need more voices in this.
There are two different ways to think about it. The informal advocacy part is one that I would really encourage everyone to explore more. The formal advocacy part, though, I also hope that we can break down that intimidation factor, because I think that educators actually have the most important voice in all of that, even a more important voice than mine.
I'm not saying I'm the most important voice, but even though I'm in those meetings, I can assure you that policymakers don't want to hear from me all the time. They want to hear from constituents and they want to hear from the people that are actually doing the work. Educator voices are very important in that. I know educators should feel like they are unprepared or unable to do that type of advocacy as well.
Kate: We're all really struggling in the classroom these days. I think that there are not enough teachers, the teachers that are there are working so hard to stay, keep their head above water, and feeling day after day that they need some encouragement and some support.
If I'm coming at it from that space of, I already have so much going on as a teacher, is it really going to make a difference if I speak up? It's just a little old me. A little overworked, tired, educator me. Am I really going to make a difference? What do you think about that?
Jake: First, I want to recognize that teachers today have it harder than ever. I take my hat off to those that are still in the classroom and have been in the classroom throughout the pandemic. It has been 10 years since I first started teaching. I was in the classroom for three years.
Of course, teaching is hard in general, especially when you're a first, second, or third year teacher. Add in everything that happened with the pandemic, add in all of the political sensitivities that are really starting to play a role in the classroom for teachers across the country. It is a really difficult environment on top of all of the problems that already persisted.
One thing that you should know is the fact that if you are still in the classroom and still teaching, you're already doing amazing things. You are already playing a role there. We are hearing about the staffing crisis, of course. We're hearing about the teacher crisis. Of course, a lot of people know that it's connected to low pay.
I still think that there's a disconnect between what teachers need, even something as simple as an educator just raising their voice about what they need. Again, I go back to, you could do that informally by just just talking to people in your network, talking about the systemic failures that are contributing to these problems in your classroom.
But then, you can also do that formally, and this could be local, this could be statewide, or national, by going to policymakers or going to events and trying to raise your voice.
And then there's a lot in between. You could write to your Member of Congress. You could call in. Of course, all of that, though, sounds intimidating. A lot of that sounds timely. I know that teachers don't have a lot of time to get involved. I think that's where we run up into this issue, where the people whose voices we need the most are busy.
The people whose voices we need the most are busy.
What can we do to help lay out a path for them to be able to participate? There are a number of ways to make that happen. You could get involved with a local or national organization. NAEYC is a really great example. I know that there are many state AEYC chapters that people can join and be a part of.
What's great about that is they'll tell you when your voice is needed. They'll tell you when to send an email to Congress or call. Oftentimes, they'll even provide you a script or a draft email. They'll try to make it as easy for you as possible, because these advocacy organizations are well aware that teachers just don't have that time to commit to advocacy.
I would also add, and this goes back to your question of, does my voice matter? No surprise, I'm going to say that the answer is yes, but let me explain a little bit why. When we look at elections and we compare this to voting, it's very, very similar in the Florida election in 2000. It was less than 500 votes that basically determines the President of the United States.
It's very similar with advocacy as well. Actually, advocacy takes less voices to make an impact. I mentioned I worked for a Senator. I mentioned that I take the calls and do the admin work. Take it from someone who's been on the inside.
Actually, advocacy takes less voices to make an impact.
We do actually track the calls. When you do call in, we actually mark what you say, then compile that list. We send it out daily. We add up those numbers weekly, because that is a way for our office to monitor the trends of what constituents were saying. There could be 10 or 20 constituents calling in on something, and those numbers do actually stand out.
It really just takes a few people to raise their voices to really get something on the radar of someone who can make a difference. Whether it's by yourself or you even connect with others, I think your voice is going to be really important.
Kate: Okay, truth time here. I have always seen those calls to action from maybe NAEYC or something like that, where like, here's what to say, we're giving it to you. I go, oh, I don't know, will that really make a difference? It is so great to hear that, even if it's pre-written. I'm just filling in my name, it does get counted. Really? Somebody is keeping track of that stuff? That's amazing.
Jake: Yeah. If you send a letter, you actually might get a response as well. A lot of offices do take that seriously. I get it. I get when you're up against everything that you're in the classroom and you see this other email that honestly just may not make it. You may not even see it in the day and the time may have already passed that you could have weighed in.
That's okay, because I think part of this, too, is not necessarily to be so hard on yourself. As long as you develop that awareness of how I can raise my voice, I honestly think that for some people, that's not the best way to raise their voice. There might be a different way that works for their personality and style.
I don't have a TikTok. However, we are seeing a lot of TikToks, especially from educators. A part of me thinks that, could that be turned into more of an advocacy-oriented avenue as well? Some teachers are already doing that. Some teachers do a great job. I've seen some videos, sometimes on TikTok that might really highlight those issues. That's a fun way for more of the creative teacher that wants to share those things to get involved.
I think that as long as someone's really taking the time to think through what would work for them, not everyone has to do the same thing, which is why I would love to expand the view of what advocacy is, so people can latch on to the one that might work best for them.
I would love to expand the view of what advocacy is, so people can latch on to the one that might work best for them.
Kate: It could be just a conversation with a neighbor. Who knows that you're a teacher? Oh, gosh, what's it's like out there right now? It could be something I'm putting on social media, a formal letter, or phone call to my representative. There are different ways to do that.
What if I feel like I don't feel I'm knowledgeable enough to speak up? I don't have the data that I need? I feel at a loss for having a weighty argument. What do I say when I feel at a loss?
Jake: Or how do you speak government? I think a lot of people are just very intimidated to talk about policy. Basically, I would say that you, actually, as an educator, have all of the information that you need. You don't need to worry about talking about the policies. You don't need to necessarily worry about those kinds of details.
What you need to worry about is describing what you're seeing. You're the one that's on the ground. You're the one that is living the experience. You have that vital information already.
Actually, a big part of advocacy is education. You're an educator. Actually, you can do this. You know how to do it. You do it every day with your students. Now, just imagine that for a broader audience, which could be families, the families of your students. It could be your friends on your social network. It could be your local community. It could be here in DC, to a federal policymaker. What you're telling them are your experiences and your needs. It's their job to figure out the rest. I think you have all of the expertise.
A big part of advocacy is education. You're an educator. Actually, you can do this. You know how to do it. You do it every day with your students.
Another thing I want to add to that is also understanding that Members of Congress don't necessarily always know that. I have actually been in meetings with staff or with Members of Congress. They might have some understanding of an issue, but they don't necessarily know all the details themselves. That's because, actually, Members of Congress rely on advocacy organizations to help fill in those gaps.
It's impossible to be an expert on everything. It really is. Even the staff members who are incredibly intelligent, hardworking, and whatnot, they are spread thin. Having a voice to really help paint that picture for them, that's helpful no matter who the staffer is.
I think sometimes, it's just a matter of not feeling so intimidated and not feeling like you're the least knowledgeable in the room. The truth is that you have a vantage point that actually makes you the most important voice in the room, in my opinion.
The truth is that you have a vantage point that actually makes you the most important voice in the room, in my opinion.
Kate: I may not think I have the data, but my lived experience is the data that I need to just talk about what I experience every day, what I see happening in school around me, other friends that I know that are teachers, what their experiences and what we need in our schools and in our communities. You said, let the other people figure out the solutions. We need to talk about what we need and what's happening.
Jake: I want to expand that a little bit, too. When we say what we need, not only what you need to teach in the classroom, what you need to support yourself. That is really important in all of this. We are seeing some of the highest turnover ever in teaching right now. It's really important for policymakers to understand those reasons.
I think teachers, especially the ones that are still in it, are used to giving everything they have to their students, because they care about their students, and they want to make sure that they're there for their students. But there is an element of self-care that is really important to sustaining teaching. You need to make sure that you're taken care of so that you can be there for your students.
We need to think beyond what you just need in the classroom and really think about, what are the supports you need in your life so that you can put more into teaching and you don't have to worry about not being able to go to the doctor because you don't have benefits?
By the way, I'm speaking from personal experience when I say this, so I hope people understand. You don't have to worry about writing a check and cashing at the grocery store, knowing that it'll be a couple business days, and that buys you a little bit more time to get to the next paycheck. I bet you, there are a lot of listeners right now who know exactly what I'm talking about.
That's not okay, because at the end of the day, those stresses are going to impact your classroom no matter what. It might be indirectly, but it is going to do so. We need to make sure that teachers are taken care of, well-compensated, and can support themselves so they can support their students.
Early educators, especially, are the ones that are really molding minds. We need to make sure that those that are molding the minds of our most precious and vulnerable are well-equipped to do so. That is much more than just resources in the classroom. That is also a part of it, but it goes beyond that.
Early educators, especially, are the ones that are really molding minds. We need to make sure that those that are molding the minds of our most precious and vulnerable are well-equipped to do so.
Kate: Yes, each person is a valuable resource, each teacher is. Our own health and well-being impacts the health, well-being, and learning that happens for the children in our classrooms. That's such an important and special message.
Can you give us a little bit of information of what are the hot topics out there right now that we could weigh in on, we should be looking out for, or any of that stuff?
Jake: I would love to talk about this, especially people who are loosely paying attention to the news, they may have heard about Build Back Better and this promise for all this money for preschool and childcare. Essentially, what happened was Built Back Better, over time, turned into the Inflation Reduction Act.
Senator Manchin, who is that one holdout vote, because we have this crazy makeup in the Senate that was a complete fluke, because Georgia won the Senate seat, you see how all of these things tied together, but we had the one holdout of Senator Manchin. He did announce that he would support this Inflation Reduction Act. Unfortunately, childcare and early learning was left out of it.
It was pared down to health care, energy, and climate-related measures. We did not see that investment that we were looking for, and that was originally written to Build Back Better.
However, that does not mean that we are done yet. The session ends at the end of December, so there's still some time. We do have midterms thrown in there, so that is going to definitely affect the timeline. There's still a possibility to try to see if we can get something bipartisan across the finish line before the end of the year. I am sure there are a lot of listeners who are very skeptical of the idea that anything bipartisan could happen.
To be honest, I don't think we're going to have many bipartisan initiatives before midterms, but we will likely have a lot after midterms. That time period after midterms—from mid November to the end of December—is going to be really crucial, not just for childcare and early learning, but for a whole number of issues that need to be resolved before Members end of the session at the end of the year.
Of course, in addition to trying to pursue something bipartisan, we still have the regular funding that is moving forward. When I say regular funding, I'm talking about the year-to-year funding for programs like Head Start. For those that might be familiar in the childcare space, the Child Care and Development Block Grants, which we often call CCDBG, because we love throwing acronyms at everybody.
That is probably going to be a little delayed. That will probably be pushed till after midterms again. However, it was nice to see that the House and the Senate are proposing at least billions of an increase there. In CCDBG, they're proposing a $1 billion increase from last year's levels. Head Start, they're proposing a $1.3–$1.4 billion increase so still a number of sizable increases.
But then, I have to look at the other side and say, when we factor in inflation, how far does that money really go? I would say that maybe we need to ask for more to compensate for the high cost of inflation, but that's another story. We'll still happily take those increases.
We still have a couple of measures left. Really, when it comes down to Congress is we need money. This system is under-resourced, and the investment is not there. If they don't figure something out at the end of the year, the problems are only going to get worse. That's saying a lot because they are really bad right now.
Kate: Yes, we want to do what we can to be on a proactive. Let's do some things. Let's make a difference so that we can see. I had a conversation last night with teachers. School district teachers talking about those year-to-year increases are not keeping up with inflation, even.
Even school district teachers who feel like they're in a fairly stable environment in terms of structure and things like that, they're not able to keep up paying their bills. It's very stressful. They're talking about emergency waivers to fill in, vacancies and things like that in our classrooms, where now there won't even be qualified teachers. Really, we've got to do something.
It's so great to hear your encouragement and the information. That's like the federal level. How do I find out about, are there things happening at the state level too? How would I find out about my local? All of that stuff. There are so many different levels.
Jake: During the pandemic, we saw the largest investment into child care and early learning that we have ever seen. If you add up the different legislation that was passed, it's about $50 billion for child care and early learning. That is unheard of, that is historic. We've actually seen that make a difference, so if you're in a state that may have started providing bonuses for salaries, for example. And in some states, it's been a lot.
In DC, actually, it's $10,000–$12,000 that they're adding on. In a variety of other states, it looks like bonus checks ranging from $300 a quarter to $1000, $1500, $2000, in different cycles, and all of that helps. But now, we're up against the other problem, which is none of its permanent. That funding is going to dry up very quickly.
While $50 billion sounds like a lot, remember that we have 50 states. That becomes $1 billion. If you keep going and going, it really isn't the money that we need long-term.
In some states, they're paying attention to the issue. The pandemic really helps to highlight that, although some advocates like myself who have been trying to scream it at Congress for a while before the pandemic, you've been like, okay, now you see the problem.
Kate: That's what it took.
Jake: Finally. The pandemic really shined the light on that. We must take advantage of this moment. We also cannot let it fade away as the world reopens. We can't let them forget just how essential all of this is.
We must take advantage of this moment. We also cannot let it fade away as the world reopens. We can't let them forget just how essential all of this is.
Some states are really wanting to look into how to fix these problems, but we still need those voices to just tip it over the edge and to really get them there, because what that looks like can look very different from state to state.
I will say, New Mexico right now is starting to lead the country in terms of some investments into early childhood. There are several reasons for that. The leaders of New Mexico really work together to identify a way to get permanent funding for the field. They decided to go the route of taxes for land leases that they have for oil companies there. They had to get congressional approval for that, so they worked with their senators, actually, to go through and get congressional approval. Together, they made it work. Now they have a permanent source of funding.
New Mexico basically said, we're not going to wait for the Feds. I think that's an important thing to remember. I think we still need to put pressure on the federal government. We still need to try to get that funding from the federal government, but we also can't wait. We can't necessarily put all of our eggs into one basket.
That advocacy at the state level is also really crucial. We need our voices there. Oftentimes, the American public tends to only think of politics as national. We have national news, we're paying attention to what's in DC, people don't think about the state or the local.
Everyone has a state senator or a state representative that they could reach out to. Actually, those offices receive even less calls. It's much easier actually to form a relationship with those offices than maybe a federal office or governor's office that is more statewide.
I absolutely think it's worth it. I don't think we should let states off the hook just because the Feds haven't funded anything, because if the state wanted to, they could figure it out. I think it's our job to make them want to.
Kate: Okay, I've got different levels. I'm stepping back. We can do formal or informal. My neighbor or something really formal. Or I can do local school board, local government, local to state to federal. There are all these different levels.
Is there a special time? Is anytime a good time? I want to make sure that if I'm getting brave enough to speak up, I want to make sure that it is at a good time, that it's going to make a difference. What's your advice on that?
Jake: The first thing I'll say is, yes, anytime is a good time. If you've ever worried about the time, don't let that influence whether or not you should do it. There are some times where, depending on what you're doing, it is strategically a little bit better.
We went back to those action alerts that you might get from NAEYC or other organizations. Those action alerts are actually timed for a reason. In this complicated process of Congress, there are certain moments where raising your voice is very helpful, but it's helpful to raise your voice all the time as well.
One thing I want to highlight just because it's coming up are midterms. Elections are a great time to raise your voice. There are going to be town halls or other events that the candidates are going to be hosting. Even something as simple as showing up and asking a question. Maybe in that question, you can talk about those pressures that you're up against, whether that's financially or in the classroom. You can vocalize just how bad it is and just how much you need help.
Elections are crucial. Elections are not only determining who is in the office, but it's also determining the promises that they're making to their constituents that they need to be held to throughout their time in office. It really can influence that agenda, even well beyond the election taking place.
Voting, of course, is crucial, but I think making sure that those Members of Congress or those candidates that are running for office understand that they should be fighting tooth and nail to invest in our education and particularly our early education system, make them promise that. It makes them look you in the eye and promise that or engage in other advocacy activities and start educating people.
I will say, as an educator, maybe we don't know everything right away, but we're educators. We never know everything right away. I can tell you there are a number of lessons that I've taught that before I taught them, I really didn't know what they were or I really couldn't remember what it was. What did I do? I went back, I taught myself, and then I figured out a way to educate my students about it.
Advocacy is the exact same thing. If there is something that you think needs to happen or maybe you do a little research on the candidates, you learn about the local, state, or national candidates that are making these promises that we know are good for educators, we know are good for students, and you're sharing that information, it's really just a process of of helping to educate others. However you do that, that's advocacy.
Kate: All right, now I know I've got options. I know my voice counts anytime. There are strategic times, but there are also, if I miss that email and I don't respond, it's still okay to go ahead and send it anyway, or a call or whatever.
I have so many options then as a teacher. It's amazing to me to think that even if I just show up at a town hall and I just tell my story. I might not even have to ask a question. I could just go, hey, so and so, whoever you are coming to hear from me, here's what I have to say. This is what it's like in my classroom, in my building, in my district, or how it's affecting whether or not I can pay the bills, or the health care that I get through the district is so expensive, and yet doesn't cover these really important things, or whatever it is. It's not just about my classroom, it's about my livelihood, and my well-being that you were saying earlier, Jake.
What I'm getting nervous about is saying the wrong things. I'm feeling very inspired that I could actually do this, and then I worry, what if I say something that gets me in trouble? I don't even have TikTok. I've seen things go wrong. People put things on social media and they end up getting in trouble for them. What is your thought about how to advocate in a safe way that really does preserve my livelihood also?
Jake: That is more than fair because we also live in such a politically-sensitive time that is playing out in the classroom, where you've seen the stories about teachers getting fired because of a well-intended lesson that they may have taught or something that they may have tried to put out there on social media. It is a very fiery time.
One thing I would highlight is understand that you have the right to advocate. That is your right. I would also just think through the policies. First of all, understand the policies that your school district or that your school may have and review those carefully.
I don't think it ever hurts if you're going to start a TikTok or put out a public message. I don't think it ever hurts to run it by your administration. Do that CYA, your Cover Your A step. That way, you just know that you won't get in trouble. I don't think it ever hurts.
When it comes to the formal advocacy, that, I don't think you should really be worried about. Everyone has the right to write to their Congressperson or call in and have that opinion. That, you should definitely feel okay with. That informal advocacy, though, definitely can be something where I think it's really important for you to understand where you could get in trouble or where you're safer.
I do think by connecting with maybe an administrator, particularly a trusted administrator, someone in your school, or whoever you work for, maybe they can help bring ideas to the table, too. Maybe they can be a thought partner in what it is you want to communicate. Maybe you can do an education campaign to your families and your students. Maybe there's something that's an important vote that's coming up in city council or something where you don't need just your voice, you need the voices of your parents, so you need the voices of others as well.
There's a way for the school to educate people about that. You are always allowed to educate, always. That is something that should be allowed. Of course, you want to make sure that you're checking in with your administrator or whoever it is that is your supervisor.
Recognize that they may also want to step in or they may be able to point you in a direction where they're like, maybe not this avenue, but here's another avenue or here's an alternative that could help you. I want to make sure that teachers are protecting themselves, especially during these times. It is more than a legitimate question.
Kate: Definitely want to speak up and also do it in a way that can be received, that my message is truth. It's talking about what the real situation is and at the same time, not getting me in trouble or putting people off, but opening up those ears to hear about, oh, wow, we really do need to do something about this. How can I also get involved?
Jake: This ties really nicely to the conversation we had earlier about choosing what works best for you. I've listed so many things. I also want to remind everyone that we need creative energy here, too. You may have an idea that I've never even thought of that will help spark that education. We hear about those on the news, that different thing that really helped drive a point or raise awareness.
Don't feel that you're limited to the things I've suggested. I think a lot of this is about, of course, assessing your environment, making sure you are learning about what you can do, but also what's comfortable for you. Some people are more comfortable on TikTok. They are great at it. I don't think I would ever be great at it, but others are fantastic at it.
By the way, a great example of advocacy or a campaign—this actually came up on my Facebook memories the other day 12 times—is the ALS, Ice Bucket Challenge. Do you remember that? People had to nominate other people. Someone had that idea, and that idea took off.
Feel free to bring your creative energy to the table. If you are exhausted because you expend all of that in your classroom, feel free to get connected to the organizations or people that can help you at least weigh in when it's timely. Definitely, doing what's best for you and what works best for you is the most important thing.
Kate: We don't want to lose this opportunity. So many things came to light during and after the pandemic. As you're saying, some of that funding that people felt was emergency funding, was just getting people to the starting line rather than boosting things past, like, oh, it's really going to help. No, this is just getting to meeting basic needs. To lose that would be terrible. We want to make sure we don't lose this point in time, where so many people are ready to listen, think, and make a difference.
Jake: The point in time is so important because I'm fearful that we're going to not see the spotlight on this issue anymore. We are on this cusp where we can't let people forget about this. We have to do everything and we need everyone involved to make sure that people are not forgetting about this, and that this is not going to just fade into the background once the world reopens.
Right now—not to scare people, but actually maybe it is to scare people—we're approaching a systemic failure in early learning, especially. It's one in which we need, definitely, to invest in our workforce. We need to invest and see the public investment there, because it's just not there. The public investment is not there at all.
Honestly, the time is now because I am quite fearful that the industry may collapse within the next year or two if we don't see that long-term funding that we know is so necessary. I need your help. You, Kate, and everyone else that's listening to this, I need your help. The other advocacy organizations need your help. We cannot do it by ourselves. We cannot do it without you.
Really, this whole podcast is more than just encouraging you to advocate. I am pleading with you. Please, think through a way that you can raise your voice because we absolutely need it. We need you in this light.
Kate: Okay, you've got me. It's so crazy to me that education continues to take a backseat. It's the one thing that everyone in this nation has in common, that at some point, we have been in a school or in a learning environment of some sort. Even if we are learning in our home, education is something that people make decisions about all the time.
As a parent, where's my child going to go? As a teacher, who are these children coming into my classroom? I don't know. It's the thing that we should all have in common. We should agree that this something needs to be.
Jake: This is why the informal advocacy part can be a game changer, because when you're looping in new voices, you could potentially be looping in new perspectives that can weigh in on this. A great example is, one time, there was the Statewide Chamber of Commerce. I was speaking with someone at the Chamber of Commerce. They said that they had heard about the issue of early childhood, because their brother's daughter, their niece, or someone, was an early childhood worker. He learned just how bad it was for them.
By learning about that, this person at the Chamber of Commerce then was able to start to pitch in with the advocacy. Suddenly, now in this state, not only do we have the educators and the usual suspects when it comes to advocacy, but now we have industry weighing in. We have a chamber of commerce which typically has a voice saying that, yes, childcare and early learning are absolutely crucial.
Don't underestimate the power of one conversation, because that one conversation can bring that new voice to the table. The worst part is that you may not know. That one conversation could result in another conversation. You may be removed from it, but that's okay because as teachers, I think we're used to that.
A student may not get what we're saying on that day. They may get it a year from now or 10 years from now, and they think back, I remember when Mr. Stewart told me this. I’ve certainly done that with my teachers before and I thought, it's been ten years since she said this, but it's finally clicking. That's okay because I think as educators, we know the power of education and spreading that awareness.
Kate: Okay, time to get down to the nitty gritty. Let's recap here, because I'm convinced and I will do something advocacy-wise. I have never been that type of person.
Sure, I can get on a soapbox maybe with my teacher friends because we talk to each other all the time, but I need to now get brave to speak to a new ear, to be a new voice to a new ear that would be helpful instead of just always talking to ourselves about the problems. We need to get the word out.
We have formal, we have informal. We have close by, local, state, federal. We've got all these things. We know that timing is an issue, or sometimes not. Sometimes it's more impactful. Anytime is a good time to speak up about it.
What would be maybe a couple of big takeaways you would want the listeners to take from this conversation for their own next step?
Jake: (1) We need your voice. (2) We need it sooner rather than later. I think for those that might be on the fence but leaning towards getting involved, I think just like you would any tasks for your classroom, break this down into something manageable.
I mentioned midterms are this big turning point here, especially this year. Maybe commit to trying to do one thing before midterms and then one thing after midterms. Maybe you could try to commit to doing something weekly. If you're a social media user, maybe that's a post weekly about this issue leading to midterms.
Think through those goals that you feel comfortable committing to and start there. I think that once we start getting into more of the specifics, it then starts to become a little bit more manageable.
We would love for you to try to raise your voice by the end of this year, and specifically to Congress. I should specify that. If you're wanting to get started in a direction, because it feels like there are a million directions right now, one that I can suggest is congressional advocacy before the end of the year so that Congress understands that they need to get a bipartisan deal for childcare and early learning. That's a great place to start. Most importantly is you make sure that you're doing this in a way that's comfortable for you and bring the skills that you already have to the table.
The last thing I'll say is you deserve more. It's awkward for a lot of people to ask for more, especially teachers who are very selfless and very giving. You deserve more because your students deserve a teacher who has those things.
Don't feel nervous or weird about asking for things that help yourself, because the job that you're doing is already selfless. It is okay to not only be asking for these things, I'm going to use the verb demanding for these things, because that's what your students deserve as well.
That's the one thing that I want to leave off with you all and to the educators out there that are currently out there. The work you're doing is sensational. You are on the front lines right now, too, and it is very difficult. But please know that we support you and you deserve more. We love your voice in raising that to Members of Congress.
Kate: You're out there fighting for us and you want us to join in. You just said, I can't do it alone. We need your voice. Thank you so much for all of the information that you've given us and the encouragement. We can do this.
I promise I will do something before and after the midterm election. I really want to lend my voice to make a difference for classrooms and all of the children in this nation that need the best teachers and the best settings they can get. Thank you so much. Parting thoughts?
Jake: Thank you for having me today. This has been a wonderful conversation. Thanks to the educators. I know I just went on a whole thing about thanking them, but seriously, I cannot thank you enough. The work you're doing is difficult. It is more difficult even than when I was doing it. You're doing a fantastic job. Now, we need to do our part, we, being everyone else. It's time for the country to step up and support you like they always should.
Kate: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Jake: Thank you.
Kate: You know, I've never really thought of advocacy as a form of self care, but I get it now. Lending my voice to the fight for what's best for myself, my colleagues, and our students and families, is an important way to take care of each of us. I'm so grateful to Jake for making the intimidating act of advocacy seem totally doable.
We're experts. Our voices matter and they're needed, so let's raise our voices together. Until next time, take care of yourself and your team, because what you do matters.