“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank, Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex: A Collection of Her Short Stories, Fables, and Lesser-Known Writings, Revised Edition
Over the course of the last few weeks, people have been asking me how things are going quite a bit more than they used to. I never quite knew how to respond before – do they really want to know or are they just being polite? If they really want to know, then I’ll give them a few details. Otherwise, I’ll just say something non-committal and everyone walks away from the exchange feeling not bad.
Now it’s harder, because my instinct is to assume they mean the campaign and I have no idea how to answer that question. I don’t have a primary, so that’s good. I’m learning more and more about the process and what’s required, so that’s good. I’m also learning how much nobody is ever prepared for their first run for office, so I think now is a really good opportunity for me to tell you a little more about myself.
I’m convinced that my mother would laugh at me (if she wasn’t such a kind person by nature) every time I say I’m not sure about something. I’m like a friggin’ scout – ALWAYS prepared. My entire life, I’ve known exactly what I wanted, I’ve done everything I need to do to get it, and then I move on to the next thing with more confidence about myself, but not necessarily the next new, potentially scary thing. I’ll give you an example (the big one).
I knew I wanted to be a teacher in elementary school. I played school with my cousins and my sister and the neighbors and anyone who would let me. I was always the teacher. But even then I knew I couldn’t afford to be a teacher. I lied to myself about it for years, doing school career projects over things like archaeology, architecture, law, and psychiatry. But my heart was always in teaching. When my cousin was younger and struggling in math, I LOVED it when she asked for my help.
It wasn’t until high school that I finally acknowledged that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. But I didn’t just go to school to be a teacher. I took the ACT, made a high enough score to get a great scholarship, took anywhere from 18 to 22 credit hours a semester and was working between one and three part-time jobs at a time to make ends meet. I never stopped. I graduated summa cum laude. After one year of teaching, I went back during summers and online classes during the fall and spring semesters (while teaching full time) and finished my Masters four years later with a 4.0. I’ve now been in the classroom as a teacher longer than I was in public schools as a student. But that doesn’t mean my first year teaching wasn’t absolutely terrifying.
I wanted to be more involved in my association. Next thing you know, I’m doing the summer training, joining delegations, running for local office, and sitting on our bargaining team. I got better and better at it, but that doesn’t mean my first foray wasn’t nerve-wracking and unsure.
Somewhere along the line (and I’m not even really sure when) I realized I like politics.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say I like the drama, back-room dealing, lying, broken promises, say whatever you need to say to get elected and then do whatever you want kind of politics. I mean I like the idea of people having an issue, and then a bunch of people getting together to find a good solution to that issue without simultaneously creating a new issue. I like the idea of calling up my lawmaker and explaining why I feel the way I feel on certain issues and knowing that they will remember my story when they vote.
I like the idea of being able to have coffee with my lawmaker and have real, human conversation and connect on a level that convinces me my voice is heard, a way that shows empathy and compassion.
Oh, wait, that doesn’t really happen, though, does it? I have had a few encounters with genuinely awesome legislators at the state level, and I always feel like anything is possible when I walk away. But those experiences have been few and far between, and I think it’s sad.
I think it’s sad that people who do get elected get so comfortable up there that they forget they have to come back to real life and live with the choices they made while in office. So their every move is not to do something good for this state, but whatever will keep them in office, get them re-elected, or help them move up another rung on the stepping-on-the-little-people ladder.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that if I get elected this November, that I won’t run for reelection in four years. That would be a lie. But I’m also not going to stoop to doing “whatever it takes” just to keep my seat. That’s crap. The job is to help Oklahoma. Do the job. Help the state. Benefit when you’re no longer in office because you did your job and the state got better.
The point is, I liked the idea of how it is supposed to be enough that the fact that it’s not that way made me frustrated and angry. And like any Type A personality, if something is not being done right, I have a need to just do it myself.
So, here I am, putting myself out there – the social introvert who can talk to people but would rather talk to my cat – in a sincere effort to do everything I possibly can to take whatever steps are necessary to get where I need to be. But we are never as prepared as we think we are. I have confidence that I can do this job and do it well. I have confidence, especially, that if half of the teacher candidates that are running get elected alongside me, we can forever change the state of Oklahoma for our kids. But that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous.
I’ve been a teacher my entire life, whether I wanted to or not. That’s who I am. I know everything I have done to this point has led me here, though.
I can talk to a crowd (even if I need alone time to recharge my battery afterward). I can get people to work together for a common purpose. I can listen with empathy to parents who are scared or angry or hurt and help them through it, willing to let them make me the cause of all their troubles long enough for them to talk it through and see that we’re a team. I can deal with a classroom of 60 kids at once, none of which are the same – poverty and affluence, involved parents and absentee parents, hungry and well-fed, fixed mindset and growth mindset, every race, every sexuality (including “I have no idea what’s going on”), every level of anger management, every religion, every level of need for love, I have seen it in my room. And we come together for a common purpose.
And you ask any one of my students about me, and they’ll tell you I listen and I care. Even when they don’t feel heard by anyone else in their lives, they are heard in my room. If I take pride in nothing else from my life thus far, it is that I know my daughter and my students feel loved.
Now, trying to do that with voters would be…awkward…but even adults have a need to be heard. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – tell me your story. Let me learn about you so we can be connected as only human beings can connect, and then we can solve our problems together, with compassion and understanding.