As a librarian and educator, I sometimes have to deal with unhappy parents. One of the first pieces of advice you learn as a librarian is that people just want to be heard. So when people have a complaint, your job is first to just listen. Listening alleviates the situation, because most of all, people just want to be heard.
In my experience the past few months interacting with legislative aides and legislators in Texas, it has become clear some legislative staffers and legislators could use a dose of this advice. And after some very unpleasant dealings with a few legislative aides, I feel compelled to write this reminder.
Dear Texas legislators and staff members:
I’m a voter, a parent, and an educator. When I call your office or drop by, please:
1. Treat me with courtesy, not hostility or boredom. I’m a voter. And voters often just want to be heard.
2. Listen to my concerns. Ask a few questions. Don’t assume you know everything about an issue either. Perhaps I have something unique to share.
3. If I am passionate about an issue, it’s because it’s important to me. Again, #1, people just want to be heard.
4. Treat me with respect. Don’t patronize me from the beginning of the conversation by assuming I am uninformed on the issues or that I have no idea what I am talking about. And don’t start off the conversation being defensive, please.
5. Remember that you are not entitled. Today I was told after a discussion with a staffer for Rep. Paul Workman(in whose district I work) that I was “lucky” that the staffer even took the time to explain the Representative’s stand on an issue with me, and that the staffer could have just “blown me off.” (direct quote). You all are elected to serve the people of this state, and those you hire also represent you. The keyword there being “serve.” Not just the organizations, lobbyists, etc., but the people–the parents, grandparents, children, and voters of all kinds. As a public servant, your responsibility is to serve the public with professionalism, respect, and courtesy. Teachers are public servants and we know that. I would have probably been fired had I spoken to a parent the way I was spoken to today. (Imagine as an educator telling a parent that they are “lucky” that you bothered to explain your grading policy to them because you could have just “blown them off?”)
6. Treat every person who walks into your office with equal respect. We are people who care enough to drive down to the Capitol, or take the time to pick up the phone to call you.
7. Don’t just listen to the lobbyists. If you are hearing from many voters on an issue, especially individuals who are not part of an organized lobby, then there probably is a real concern with that issue. It might be worth it to listen. Again, people want to be heard.
8. And to legislators–what I expect from you as a voter is that you find creative solutions. We expect our students-(despite the restraints of testing which encourages them to do otherwise)-to innovate, to lead, to create, and to think outside of the box. We know even when we box them in with rules, there will always be students who creatively dare to think outside the confinement of those rules.
9. And by the way, we also expect students to be respectful to their teachers. Perhaps a few of you could learn a lesson from them.
I know this post doesn’t apply to every legislative aide, nor every legislator and I apologize ahead of time to those who have been beyond helpful (Representative Donna Howard’s staff, for example, and Representative John Frullo’s staffer, among many others.) But after enduring a session where aides have been defensive from the moment they answered the phone, spoken disdainfully, insulted my intelligence, been rude to me either over the phone or face to face, and where educators have been disparaged by word and deed by the governor and many legislators in speeches and media interviews and where the “party line” has been one of shifting the blame to local school districts as though this budget shortfall were somehow their fault, I feel like it’s time for you to remember that you work for ALL the voters of this state. You are public servants, and your behavior should reflect the best of those words.
And to Representative Todd Smith’s aide who told me that educators don’t traditionally vote, I have this to say: We will be voting. And so will parents around the state. And the treatment educators have received at the hands of this governor and legislature have made us even more determined.