The Elephant in the Classroom

Regardless of our walk in life, we invariably encounter some frustration that we blame on the government, or more specifically, lawmakers.  Almost everyone has heard of a law that seems like some sort of punchline to an unamusing joke.  Florida urban legend has it that there is a law that says: “If an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.”  An odd, but logical law, I suppose.

As a veteran public school classroom teacher, I have openly complained about the fact that Florida has historically funded public education well below the national average of spending per student.  More often than not, though, these gripes are shared with fellow educators, friends, and family—those whom generally agree with my perspective. It becomes the classic “preaching to the choir” rant.

Last month, I had the unique opportunity to attend legislative sessions in Tallahassee with my dynamic union president and another teacher leader from my district.  We spent a week learning about the issues and bills that were being debated and voted upon, meeting with our respective legislators, and seeing the entire democratic process occur in subcommittees and on the Senate and House floors.  We even had the chance to voice our opposition to changes to the Florida Retirement System as it was being debated within the Appropriation’s Subcommittee.

During that week, I was able to convey my passion for public education and share my concerns with people who truly have the power to implement change in my state.  Not surprisingly, some politicians aligned with my ideals, while others did not.  But the ability to share my viewpoint as a classroom teacher is what mattered most to me.  One legislator shared with us that, as a proponent of public schools, too often he knows that the majority of lawmakers will not pass public school-friendly legislation.  However, he uses his position to openly challenge, debate, and vote against any bills that do not align with his beliefs—and implores voters to do the same.

So here is my plea to all of you:  Email, call, or contact your legislators and let them know how you feel about the issues in education that matter the most to you. There is strength in numbers; allow your voice to be heard.  Or, make time to visit your legislators and see the democratic process in your state. It’s clearly time to remove our “elephant” laws and replace them with legislation that is appropriate, relevant, and logical. Your voice is needed to make this happen.No elephants were hurt during this sketch, but tethering him to meter still seemed wrong.

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  • BillIvey

    Awesome work!

    Do you know or have you heard of Rita Solnet? Here’s some of her stuff at Huffington Post. She’s also on Twitter. She’s the co-founder of Parents Across America and is doing some amazing advocacy work in Florida. I could see the two of you enjoying making a connection, and your state benefitting.

  • Rob Kriete


    Thanks, Bill.  I don’t know her yet, but am following her on Twitter now.  I really appreciate it.

  • JeffWilliams


    I enjoyed reading about your experiences in Florida!  I can completely echo the first half of your blog replacing Florida with the laws in Illinois.  I have had many conversations where I have been “preaching to the choir” about changes that need to be made at a state level.  We all complain about how they are antiquated, that they don’t make sense from a teacher’s perspective, and that the funding is put into the wrong places.  I have heard many teachers with wonderful ideas and plans for how we could start to fix parts of our education system.  However, we have failed to follow through and truly turn it into any type of action plan.  I am so glad that teachers like you have taken advantage of opportunities to speak with legislators, and I hope to one day have the chance to take part in such a unique experience.  Until that time, I am on board with your plan of contacting the appropriate parties and making our voice heard!