Interview with Sanford Johnson
What prompted you to participate in this work?
A couple of years ago, members of the House and Senate Education Committees were at the State Capitol discussing the new college and career-ready standards. A teacher from South Mississippi was called up to address the legislators. With a dry-erase marker and a whiteboard, she explained why the new standards were necessary, and they are improving Math instruction. Imagine a group of influential legislators working out math problems on the back of the papers in front of them. One legislator even said, “I wish I’d been taught math this way.”
The lesson from this experience is that great teachers are trusted by just about everyone, including policymakers. At Teach Plus Mississippi, teachers have the opportunity to combine their expertise with the policy research and advocacy skills needed to influence education policy decisions at the district, state, and national levels. We’re building a coalition of education policy experts who are still in the classroom, influencing students through real instruction while at the same time helping to move education policy.
What has been the impact?
Many teachers don’t yet recognize the power they have to influence policy. At Teach Plus, we show them how to tap into that power, who to get in touch with, and how to go to legislators with a solutions-oriented mindset, not just approaching them with a problem but also offering a recommendation on how to fix it. I get to work with teachers like Athena, who’s advocating for a teacher pay raise, and teachers like Kathryn, who’s preparing to conduct focus groups with teachers to develop recommendations on improving teacher licensure.
Years from now, I want to see thousands of teachers in the Teach Plus network in Mississippi. Some may still be in the classroom. Others may become principals or superintendents. I’d love to see a few in the legislature. We want to make sure that teachers are included in every facet of the policymaking process.
What would you like our constituents to know?
There is this perception that Mississippi’s challenges are overwhelming or nothing is being done to improve things. In reality, a lot of folks are working very hard here. This is especially true for teachers, who have consistently gone above and beyond before and during the pandemic. I hope that folks will take the time to listen to teachers and make the time to support our schools and our students.
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