During the 2015 legislative session, I ventured out of my comfort zone and attended a lobby day at the State Capitol. At first, I didn't really want to admit that I was even lobbying because I had always thought that that was someone else’s job. Besides, why would policymakers even want to hear my story? But after meeting with legislators and observing a House committee hearing, I came away from the day confident that legislators really do want—and need—to know what life is like for public educators in Minnesota. As an educator, sharing my story and ideas with policymakers needs to be a part of my job.
I was reminded of two important things during my day at the Capitol. First and foremost, I am a constituent. As such, my legislators need to hear from me—and other constituents—in order to do their jobs effectively. Make no mistake, it is important to honor the role that the legislators take on each year. It is hard and important work. But to represent their districts well, legislators need their constituents to be engaged. That’s why I encourage our elected officials to get out in the community often, and also encourage my fellow Minnesotans, if possible, to visit or otherwise engage with their legislators at the Capitol.
Secondly, I am an educator. It seemed that everyone I met at the Capitol had an aunt or a friend who was a teacher, but knowing someone who’s a teacher doesn't mean that you have any idea what a successful high poverty school looks like and, more importantly, what we need in order to eradicate the achievement gap. That’s why I encourage our elected officials to visit all kinds of schools, so that they know firsthand what our state needs to provide a first-class education for all children. And it’s why I now appreciate that, as an educator, it’s also my job to bring my experiences and ideas to the Capitol.
Take the issue of teacher licensing, for example. I believe that our current system is a system of exclusion and deters teachers who are not like me, born and educated here in Minnesota. To improve this system—which some legislators and advocates are currently working to do—we need educators at the table.
But, during the House committee meeting I attended, I noticed how few legislators were former or current educators, and how confused some representatives were about how teacher licensure works in Minnesota. I wondered if committee members understood just how broken our current licensure system is or appreciated that teachers and students are truly counting on them to make it better.
As a school principal, I see masterful teachers with more preparation than I’ve had have to pay thousands of dollars on redundant coursework in order to earn licensure here in Minnesota. This system is arbitrary and it is wrong. I also worry that it deters talented immersion teachers and teachers of color from other states, teachers whom we need in order to serve all of our children. We need our Minnesota legislators to understand how broken our current system is, and to work urgently to improve it.
After my day at the Capitol, I realize that if I don’t like how teacher licensing works in Minnesota, or how it impacts my job as a principal, it’s my responsibility to help our policymakers understand why, and to participate in discussions on how to fix it.
For the sake of my school, students, staff, community and profession, part of my job has to be to engage with policymakers and help them craft policy solutions that will help us principals and teachers better focus on the most important part of our jobs: helping all Minnesota children succeed.
Naida Grussing-Neitzel is in her fifth year as an assistant principal at Valley View Middle School in Bloomington, and previously, taught Spanish at Patrick Henry and Robbinsdale Cooper High Schools. She lives with her family (including her former-teacher husband!) in Robbinsdale, and spends her time focusing on educational equity, excellence and achievement for all learners. Naida’s looking forward to sharing ideas on how schools can foster strong relationships—which she believes are the foundation to everything.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.