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Episode 21: Learning Political Activism Starts Here

Megan Betche has been teaching since 2004. Much has changed during that time; she notes that it is now harder than ever before to strike a work-life balance. The need to see a positive change led Betche to step outside her comfort zone and run for political office.

In this episode of Educating from the Heart, we talk with Betche about her successes, her challenges, and her view of what public service should be about. 

Guest

Megan Betche, Seminole County ESE teacher

Transcript

Andrew Spar, FEA President: Hi, this is FEA president Andrew Spar. To stay on top of all the latest news and issues impacting our public schools, be sure to follow FEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information on this podcast, visit feaweb.org/podcast 

Sharon Nesvig: You’re listening to Educating from the Heart. Thank you for joining our lively conversations with teachers, support professionals, parents, and students, as they share issues that matter most in our public schools. Here are your hosts, Tina Dunbar and Luke Flynt. 

Tina Dunbar, Host: Welcome back to another edition of Educating from the Heart. Thanks for listening. Luke, I have a puzzling question, which I believe you’d be able to provide some clarity. We’ve recently completed local, state and congressional elections, where we asked educators to identify and select candidates who support students and public education. We urged them to talk with their family and friends to choose the best candidates for their schools for teachers and for support staff, and to talk with those who have some knowledge of the ongoing issues and concerns that educators face. Well, to my surprise, I received pushback from some who stated that school employees should not be actively involved in politics.

Well, Luke, that doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider every decision made in public education begins with an elected official. I just don’t get it. Everyone employed in public service, especially education need to be engaged in the political process to actively advocate for themselves, for their profession and their livelihood.

Luke Flynt, Host: You know, Tina, when I started my teaching career, I didn’t see myself as a very political person, but what happened is I realized that the over-testing that my students were facing was a policy choice, that my low pay was a policy choice, that Florida being last in the nation and student funding is a policy choice.

And when we look at today’s current environment, from book banning to the attacks on LGBTQ students and staff, those are policy decisions. And whenever there is a policy decision that negatively impacts you, you really have three choices: number one, continue to support the people who are making those policy choices.

And for me, that was untenable. Number two, just go in the classroom and teach, and this is what a lot of teachers like to do, and ignore the policy choices. But that was untenable too, because it matters to me more than just what happens in my classroom, in a state where all children can thrive, we really have to make choice number three, which is to actively, consistently, year-round, oppose any policy that hurts children and lift up policies that support every child in Florida.

Tina: Yeah, that’s it. It’s those decisions and policy choices directed by politicians that have left many teachers and support staff feeling ignored, undervalued, and unsupported.

Many of our past guests have mentioned this as a major concern for all educators. You know, teachers enjoy working with their students. They look forward to it daily, but navigating the classroom has become a real challenge for them and wrestling the politics of education.  I understand teachers wanna just teach, but all school employees must understand they’ve got to get politically involved because these decisions spill over into the rest of our lives.

Luke: I think you were spot on, Tina. In order to keep experienced teachers in the profession, they absolutely must feel like they have a voice. Unfortunately, right now, too many teachers feel that politicians aren’t listening to them. Or even worse, that certain politicians are actively trying to undermine them.

Tina: And that leads us to our guest, an educator from Seminole County who has spent the last two decades instructing students. She’ll share her experiences in the classroom and explain why it’s time to move on with the second career in politics.

Megan Betche, Seminole County Teacher: My name is Megan Betche. I’m a teacher in Seminole County, and I’m considered a transition resource teacher. So, I work with our 18 to 21 year-olds on job skills in the community. I always say we don’t graduate to the couch, we graduate to our community.

So, I started teaching in 2004 in Volusia County, started at elementary. Left Volusia County to go to Seminole County in 2010 and taught middle school there until 2016. So, 2016 until now is this transition program. All of it has been in special education. So, I’ve taught elementary, middle, and technically high school now for special ed.

Why I still do it is because of the kids. That’s where my passion is. I think I learn more from them every day than I can actually teach them. So, every day is, you don’t know what you may go into, because it’s special education. They’re nine times out of 10 they’re happy, they want to be there, they’re motivated, they want to learn. And so, it makes me want to do my job better.

We’re all used to working above and beyond or doing more with less. But this doing more with less and working shorthanded has taken away some of my, I don’t want to  say livelihood, but you know, those extracurriculars and the fun and all of those things. Because now instead of working a 10-hour day, it might be a 12, 13 hour day to get done what I need to get done.

And it’s easy for somebody else to say, “Oh, just turn that off and do it the next day.” Well, if grades are. Or an IEP is due, or, “Oh, I gotta get back to that parent. Let me make a phone call, send another email.” You don’t just not do that. I think that’s what’s made it really hard there is that short-staffed, having more students, more responsibilities with less and just trying to help each other.

Tina: How has that impacted your personal life?

Megan: So, that’s interesting. But I don’t go visit my family as much. I don’t go and do everything I want to go do. I’m a scuba diver. It’s one of my, it’s my favorite hobby. Even during Covid and before Covid, I could at least die once or twice a month. But now, because there’s so much going on, taking that time away from trying to get work done and making sure I’m doing the job I should be, I can’t go and do that like I used to.

Tina: There’s no balance.

Megan: The balance is gone. The balance is definitely gone, and I think that’s what some of those new teachers are starting to see. They’re starting to see the burnout happening. For those of us who, although I’m considered a veteran teacher, I’ve been teaching 18 years, I’m still pretty young. I still enjoy going out and doing things, but I’m exhausted.

I do enjoy having a day of where, you know, you can stay in your jammies all day, hang out at home, not have to worry about anything. And those are few and far between now because of it. I would also say those new teachers getting into the profession, they’re trying to balance it all as well. They’re just getting used to having a job, having these personal life things, whether it’s family, spouse, children, all of those things.

And some of them are leaving the profession because they don’t have that balance. They don’t have the support. Some of those new teachers weren’t reappointed because they’re not able to get their work done. You know, they could have, if they didn’t have the 17 other things that we have to do. It’s hard.

Tina: You mentioned being able to help your colleagues.

Megan: Yes.

Tina: Tell me what that’s like. It’s gotta be tough to even do that because everybody’s struggling.

Megan: Oh it is. Um, hoping colleagues is just,  sometimes you have that kiddo in your classroom that might be misbehaving and you send them out with that little post-it note that has something like, “Hey, go do this errand.” Because you know they need to get their wiggles out and things like that. And yes, that’s more elementary way, sometimes it’s the same people do those extracurricular activities, so you’re like, “Oh, I’ll do afternoon pickup so you can actually get grades done.” It’s just helping each other out because that’s what you want done for you.

It’s helping that new teacher that is like, “What do I need to do with this lesson plan?” These lesson plans are crazy. They drive some bus nuts sometimes. Um, being in Seminole County, I do work closely with some of our bus drivers and support staff, and to do my job, I have to have my job coaches, my paraprofessionals, those things.

And what’s really hard there is that sometimes like yes, you can pull them, put them in a classroom for the day, but then that means I’m on my own all day. So, sometimes helping out is making yourself shorthanded.

Tina: Where do you get support from? You support colleagues, but you need support also.

Megan: Yeah. Um, I, and that’s been interesting. I think I’ve, this year I’ve really had to learn how to ask for help. Before sometimes people just jump in and help you, and other times they’re already there. You know, they know that, look, they know that, um, expression because we have had teacher shortages, and we don’t always get time to run to the restroom between classes, middle and high school, um, elementary, sometimes their special area, that’s their only break for the day.

And not that teachers need a break, but to be able to run to the restroom, make sure that they check their mailbox. Things like that. And so now sometimes you’re like, “Hey, you’re running up to the office, grab my mail.” And because I don’t always have time to run up there, to run over and get it, um-

Tina: kind of hectic.

Megan: It is, it’s really hectic. It’s when, I mean back in the day, and they still say, “Now you teach bell to bell.” So, um, that, that’s always been the case. But usually in the morning before school or even after school, you have a little bit of time to make sure that you have, whether it’s your planning time, even during the day, you have your planning time and things like that.

But things arise. I was talking to somebody about a duty-free lunch the other day. You should have your 30 minutes of duty-free. However, sometimes my duty-free lunch is still me sitting at my desk doing paperwork, doing attendance, making sure grades have been submitted because grades are due weekly or things like that, just to make sure that you’re staying up to date and parents are notified.

So, if you’re eating your lunch there, um, I drive at times from site to site. I call it dashboard dining. I don’t necessarily get a 30-minute lunch on those days because I’m driving, and that’s my lunchtime. So, support is thin at times.

Tina: Give me a moment, a real inspiring moment that you’ve held onto that you go back to, and you’re like, “Yeah.” And it could be a moment with the kids, it could be a good be a moment with your colleagues.

Megan: So, doing what I’ve been doing. I used to have those moments where I look at back at my elementary kids or I have middle school students. What I would say now are my moments is that some of them have graduated, some of them have careers, some of them are married and having children, and they reach out to you, and they say, “Thank you.”

That’s all they have to say. And then you’re already like boohooing and you’re everything else.  Recently I was helping a student. She had just been hired at a grocery store. She’s a, the bagger, the cart collector, the front of the house stuff.

She’s learning all of her skills, and I just went in to help job coach. Not that I’m the job coach. You still check in on your students even when you know they’re working on a Saturday or Sunday. Well, the young person at the cash register was a student I had in middle school, and I always wondered, I’m always like, what happened to that young lady?

Tina: Mm-hmm. .

Megan: She came from a really rough home life. She ended up getting placed with her grandmother. She ended up on an IEP and having all these plans and things put into place, but the bottom line was she was smart, capable, very independent, very headstrong. So as long as you could get her on the right path, she was gonna be amazing.

Well, the cashier at the grocery store was the student, and she immediately turned around to me, didn’t even say words and hugged me. And in my head, “I’m like, Oh my goodness. Who is hugging me? Why are you touching me? like, What are you doing?”

And she finally let go, and I was like, “I’m so sorry. I don’t recognize you. I don’t,” you know. Her hair is different. I mean, she’s probably grown about a foot, you know, she’s a young lady now, she’s graduated high school. She’s starting college, and she goes, um, it was amazing. Um, she’s like, “When I came to that middle school, I didn’t have hope, but every day you said, ‘You can do it. Whatever you need, I am here.’ If you wanted, you know, lunchtime together, I was there.” She’s like, “nobody else did that for me.”

Tina: Mm. Yeah.

Megan: Those are the why’s.

Tina: Yeah. Do you want me to get you a tissue?

Megan: No, I’m good.

Tina: You sure?

Megan: Oh, yes.

Tina: Okay. Here’s the magic wand question. If you could create anything, transform anything, what would it look like? What would you change?

Megan: Wow. So, in education as general, I would definitely be raising salaries of everybody involved. And in that way, we should not have a staff shortage. Making sure that we have the qualified people we need, not just somebody who decided to get their substitute, you know, certificate and license, not that those people are not right, but I don’t want a worksheet pusher.

I want those teachers and the staff, we need our support staff, um, to care and to be a part of that school community. So, hopefully raising, you know, all of their salaries, helping with their healthcare. Healthcare’s a big deal, especially living in Florida. We have so many young families moving in and starting their lives here, and then, oh, do we get to retire here? Do we want do that? And what does that look like? Making sure that we have a retirement system set up for all of our school personnel and staff, and they know their options. As well as helping with class sizes. Some students this year because of staff shortages, as well as bus drivers, oh my goodness, those buses are crowded.

Money. I think it’s money. I think it’s the number of people. Making sure we have the training so we can retain and maintain what we need to maintain and keeping public schools strong. Most students, most families, their kids go to public school. We need to make it a community again, bring back that caringness and wanting to help your neighbor. That would be my magic wand.

Tina: You are a caring and a compassionate teacher.

Megan: Thank you.

Tina: And it sounds like you’ve had a wonderful career.

Megan: I love it. I can’t complain. You know, there’s all those hard days, but all those good days make it worth it.

Tina: But we’re losing you.

Megan: Oh, you are.

Tina: Let’s talk about that.

Megan: Yeah. Part of it is we’re starting to look for those, I don’t even know if it’s bigger and better jobs, just different, not necessarily in education.

I have interviewed, I have done all of those things because I don’t know if I have another year in me, like this year. But at the same time, if something doesn’t come up that’s truly fitting for my ideals and what I truly believe in, I’ll stick with teaching. But it’s not necessarily my first choice anymore.

Tina: Hurts to hear that.

Megan: It does. It hurts to say it. It really does, actually saying it allowed to others, not just the circle of people you’re willing to talk to. Yeah. So, at future, as of right now, yes. I’m going back to the classroom. Yes. I want to do those things. If something comes up, something comes up.

Because part of not receiving that support, you start realizing nobody else is really looking out for you. You have to look out for yourself and think of those next steps and what does that look like?

Tina: Mm-hmm.

Megan: Making sure you can pay your bills and live, and it’s getting harder. And I don’t necessarily, people have different people to blame for that and everything else, but part of it is the corporate society that we’re living in and some of those choices being made. And that’s part of the reason why I’ve decided to run and start in a political path. Never thought I would do that. Never. I have never liked those words because I’m a crier, and somebody will probably make me cry. But wanted to get my foot in the door hopefully, and we’ll see how it goes.

But running for soil and water just to get my name out there, to start having some conversations about advocating and educating. Because that’s what every political office should be about, not about the money you can raise, not about the, the businesses you can bring into your community, or your district or your state. It should be about helping one another, being a good neighbor, looking out for one another. And some of those characteristic have gone away.

So, I’m running for soil and water in Seminole County District Three. Do I know much about soil and water? Not a hundred percent yet, but I’m willing to learn, and I’m willing to listen to the people of my community so that I can be the best person for District Three.

But a piece of that is that I grew up in the country. I know about soil, I love to scuba dive, that’s the water piece. I also enjoy when we do have big storms, because we have those in Florida, I like not having water in the roadway so I can drive or do what I need to do, ride my bike, things like that.

But part of that is because it is a volunteer elected position. It is our only one in the state of Florida that is like that. The rest of the positions do get paid. It’s really educating yourself. It’s educating the community, and I want to bring those pieces back, and I think that’s where my, my teaching background comes in. We have to educate our community. We have to get into the schools and start teaching our students about what is our future going to look like.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, we can all agree that we have not been the nicest to our planet Earth and taking care of it and what those pieces look like. So, I just want to get out there and talk to people, see what some of those really big concerns are. Maybe ask them what their magic wand would be if we could fix it. What does that look like?

But yeah, I have, um, some high hopes for the future. Right now, it’s a steppingstone and seeing what comes next after that. What comes after that? I don’t know, because months ago I wasn’t wanting to run, and now I’m running for something. And who knows? After my, after I get elected in, in November, do my time and maybe step up, maybe stay who knows?

Tina: Sky’s the limit.

Megan: It is. I do like that. Yes. Sky is definitely the limit. Definitely. But I think the big thing is educating and advocating. Especially advocating for those who don’t have a voice. We have those, going back to teaching, we have some of those new teachers who are scared to speak up and say, “You know, this isn’t right.” I want that work life balance. I deserve more. I am enough, and I deserve.

Luke: That was a really compelling conversation. I’m sad that I missed out on this one, but I so appreciate Megan’s thoughtfulness of starting with an office like soil and water conservation and realizing that once she better understands the political process that she can actually use that to build power for herself.

Tina: Megan is off to a great start. You know, she won her election and as you mentioned, this is only the beginning for her. If you listen closely, you might have heard her response to the changes she’d like to see in public education. I certainly can see her in a future school board seat,

But it really is a shame that her students could lose her. I sure hope she’s seen as a role model for educators, especially among new teachers. Far too many policy decisions are being directed by political figures with little input from experienced practitioners.

Luke: I, I could not agree more. And that is why we continue to have these conversations monthly and look forward to the next time that we have the opportunity to talk with those who want to influence education policy in a positive direction when we educate from the heart.

Aurora Gonzalez: If you enjoy our podcast, ask your friends and colleagues to subscribe on our website@feaweb.org/EducatingFromTheHeart. Send your comments and feedback to heart@floridaea.org. Again, that’s heart, H E A R T at Florida EA dot O R G. Or you can leave a voicemail at 850-201-3384   

 

Sharon: Educating from the Heart is a production of the Florida Education Association. FEA is the statewide educators’ union with more than 150,000 members, including teachers, education staff professionals, higher education faculty, graduate assistants, students preparing to become teachers and retired educators  

 

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