Advocacy--Legislative Visits

By Lisa Ritter posted 03-14-2010 22:53


I had a suspicion that things would become very busy for me but in the first month and a half after being named as the ACTFL 2010 Language Teacher of the Year, I actually felt like I had a chance to take a deep breath.  You see the previous 15 months had gone by in a blur as I had decided to change high schools and pursued National Board Certification and developed portfolios for the Central States and ACTFL Teacher of the Year competitions.  Any of those items would have been strenuous enough but to have done them all together just created a powder keg of stressors.  But I knew that many, many colleagues have learned to manage pressure and stress and have come out of it a stronger person after having tested their limits.  They continue to inspire me. 

So February’s Discover Languages Month rolled in and after a brief respite, things started to rev up again but in a very good, manageable way.  The biggest event was the February 17th visit to the Missouri state capitol of Jefferson City. with members of a delegation from the Foreign Language Association of Missouri   Due to the maneuverings of Carrol Lund, the FLAM president, and Donna Siegrist, our liaison to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Leslie Hoffman, FLAM’s advocacy chair, we experienced a most productive day.  We began with a visit with the Missouri NEA lobbyist who informed us about various legislative items regarding education.  Then we were off to a visit with Governor Jay Nixon.  He received us in his beautiful office where he read the initial section of a proclamation in honor of Discover Languages Month and recognition of me as the ACTFL Teacher of the Year.  Then, much to our surprise, he tucked the proclamation under his arm and began to speak to us at length about the value of language learning.  You should know that each of us in the delegation had prepared ourselves with talking points so that we could put forth the message that languages must be a key component of a 21st century education.  Imagine our delight when the Governor made virtually every point for us!  He also filled us in on some jobs initiatives coming to Missouri in the near future and shared how he would like to have language teachers involved in that process.  We walked away very impressed, very excited, and very ready to lend a hand.

Our next stop was at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education where we met with the Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Stan Johnson.  We owe much to the dedication of Donna Siegrist who worked over several years to make inroads at DESE.  The fruit of all of that hard work was in evidence that day when Mr. Johnson said that our visit was the high point of his day.  We had a good discussion with him and floated the idea of appointing a state supervisor for world languages.  Due to deep budget cuts at DESE, the answer was not a yes but it was a long way from a no in that he and the Department of Education know that we can gain much more with a person dedicated to the advancement of our very specialized programs.  In the short run, we feel that we have positioned FLAM as the go-to source for information and will continue to lobby until we can realize the appointment of a state supervisor.  As we pointed out, and this resonated with the DESE officials, even driver’s ed. has a person appointed to supervise their programs yet world languages does not.  They also are very aware of the hours that were involved in creating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the French Government and expect future agreements with governments of Spain and China.  They are very aware that they need more help.

We capped off our day with a visit to state representative Sara Lampe who has been a long-time advocate for public education.  She made us feel very welcome by postponing her lunch to talk with us, inviting us into her private office which was lined with wonderful photos, and giving us tips on whom to make contact with on future visits.  

We walked away from the day very inspired and looking forward to returning soon as we have learned that a little homework on behalf of languages advocacy can produce some very big rewards.  

Here's a link to an Animoto video that chronicles our day: