Classroom to Capitol: How Texas Teachers are Becoming Effective Advocates

March 06, 2023  

“I have realized how powerful my voice actually is.” Leina Green is a high school math teacher from the small East Texas town of Henderson. She joined fellow teachers from the East Texas area to advocate about important public education issues at the Texas Capitol on February 27.

Green is part of Raise Your Hand Texas’ Texas Teacher Advocacy Days, an initiative to educate and engage Texas teachers in the advocacy process. JoLisa Hoover, Teacher Specialist at Raise Your Hand Texas and our statewide team of Regional Advocacy Directors, lead the effort. Teachers and their respective Regional Advocacy Directors from three areas of the state thus far have visited the Capitol and met with members of the Texas Senate and House of Representatives. Hoover and the Regional Advocacy Directors will continue to bring groups of teachers from different Texas regions to the Capitol throughout the 88th Legislative Session. 

“The engagement has been inspiring. Teachers who were initially quite nervous about the idea of meeting with elected officials have enthusiastically shared their experiences and expertise,” said Hoover. “Their stories are powerful, and legislators are listening.” 

The current Texas teacher workforce crisis is a critical issue during this legislative session, and Hoover and others know it is teachers themselves who have the answers. They are the closest to Texas schools and students, and they are intimately familiar with the challenges students face, as well as the supports that are working. 

“Teachers have the biggest role,” said Hilda Elizondo, who traveled to the Capitol on February 13 from Los Fresnos ISD. “They know what needs to change and what support we need most in our public school system.” 

Arriving to the point of sharing their experiences and expertise with legislators was not an easy task for all teacher participants. Many of them had never met with an elected official and were not sure how to craft their narrative or highlight data points to share their story. 

Hoover and the Regional Advocacy Directors spend time with the teachers prior to their Capitol visits to educate them about the legislative process, remind them teachers are the experts in how policy impacts their classrooms, and help them find the best ways they can talk about issues that are important to them and also useful to lawmakers. Some of the issues teachers are most interested in are teacher recruitment and retention, teacher pay and working conditions, testing and accountability, and school vouchers. 

A consistent theme emerging from teacher participants is how much easier it was to advocate than they imagined, and how legislators are interested in their input. “The process was much easier and accessible than I thought,” said Carol Kibodeaux from Vidor ISD, who visited the Capitol on February 6. “Legislators were receptive to our visits and I hope to encourage my fellow teachers in my home district to join me in being better advocates for our profession.” 

Another key takeaway teachers shared was how educators across districts and the state have similar experiences, and how important it is to share both the problems and potential solutions to public education issues. Clarissa Riojas from McAllen ISD said, “It is just as important to provide solutions and alternatives as it is to describe the challenges.” 

Along the same lines, Jennifer Laubach from Goose Creek ISD talked about how teachers’ shared experiences are important to legislators. “There are a lot of teachers with similar concerns and many politicians who are interested in helping,” said Laubach.

One teacher shared his personal transformation, from skepticism about the legislative process to agreeing with Laubach’s perspective that politicians are indeed interested and want to help. Jerome Johnson from Channelview ISD said, “My perspective was of a total cynic towards educators shaping policy, to now seeing the importance of patience, appreciating the process, and engaging in meaningful dialogue.” 

Hoover hopes the experience will be transformative for all the teachers who visit the Texas Capitol this spring, and that meaningful dialogue will be the lever for change. “There are so many challenges for teachers right now, and they deserve a platform for their voices to be heard so the system can change. The stronger and more supported teachers feel, the better our students will learn, and our entire state will benefit.” 

Seventh-grade English Language Arts teacher Jennifer Cook from Livingston ISD summed up the importance of her experience and teacher advocacy by saying, “We should be at the table every step of the way.”

“We should be at the table every step of the way.”

Hilda Elizondo, quoted earlier from Los Fresnos ISD, had a particularly powerful reason to advocate for teachers and public education at the Capitol. Her own daughter, now a third grader in Los Fresnos, wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Elizondo said, “I hope advocating for the profession now may benefit future generations of teachers, like my daughter.”  

An additional nine groups of teachers from across Texas will visit Austin throughout the legislative session. Raise Your Hand Texas aims to connect Texas teachers with dozens and dozens of legislative offices throughout the 88th Legislative Session. 

Tags: Advocacy Capitol teachers

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