By Sarah Kuper
Vestavia Hills High School teacher Jennifer Brown was named Alabama’s Teacher of the Year last May.
As such, Brown has served as the official spokeswoman for Alabama public school teachers for nearly a year. She has engaged other teachers across the state, and now Brown is trying to include local legislators and PTO members in the dialogue, especially since the current legislative session includes about 50 education-related bills.
“We are all in this together – parents, teachers, legislators. We should only be asking, ‘Is this good for the kids?'” Brown said.
In the past few weeks, several state legislators from Over the Mountain areas accepted Brown’s invitation to witness the daily operations of the public schools they represent.
Brown said it is important to give lawmakers a current look at what happens in the classroom and to establish teachers as a resource to policymakers.
“It hit me that, if we want to be viewed as educational experts, we need to bring people into the classrooms so they can see what their policies affect,” Brown said.
Visitors included Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills; Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills; Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Shelby County; and Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook.
Brown said she hopes their visit helped inform them as they approach decisions on legislation that could affect schools.
In addition to showing legislators the ins and outs of the school system, Brown invited PTO members to shadow classes for a day.
Debbie Castleberry is the PTO president for Vestavia Hills High School.
She and several other board members visited English, art and career tech classes April 15.
Castleberry said just seeing a few classes in action gave her a whole new perspective.
“It is so different than when I was in school! How kids learn now is completely different. They use new resources and teaching methods are changing.”
One thing that struck Castleberry was the teachers’ willingness to learn from each other and share teaching strategies between departments.
“I saw science teachers observing English teachers and they would say, ‘Hey, that could work in my classroom.’”
After having spent a morning in the school they serve, Castleberry said PTO members may have a greater understanding of what the school needs when teachers apply for grants.
Brown said she hopes other school systems in the state will begin to invite legislators and PTO members into schools to educate them on the needs in their districts.