Choice Conversation: Tim Farmer
Tim Farmer is the policy director at the Professional Association of Colorado Educators. In this week’s Conversation, the Teach For America alum talks about informing teachers and incentivizing attendees.
Tell me a little bit about your role at PACE, and how you got involved there?
I handle our policy advocacy and try to advance education reform on behalf of these educators. After college, I did Teach For America at a school in Florida. I recognized the need for an alternate voice in education, and found out that there were these groups like PACE scattered across the country. PACE is a state chapter of the Association of American Educators, which is a non-profit support association for teachers. We provide legal and liability insurance to teachers, education advocacy and scholarships, and grants to support teachers who are at a charter school, or are non-unionized and don’t have traditional avenues of support.
How did you first get involved in National School Choice Week?
Our national organization is very involved in National School Choice Week, and as a result, it encouraged each of its chapters to hold events. Many of our state chapters ended up hosting events, since we’re big proponents of school choice. We believe that charter school teachers and charter schools in general are not adequately represented in the policy and advocacy sphere. So, this was an exciting opportunity for us. There is a misconception with the public that all public school teachers are against school choice. We’re trying prove to the public that there are public school teachers that support school choice.
Tell me about the event that you hosted during National School Choice Week 2012.
About 20 teachers attended a breakfast we put on. It was open to any and all teachers, not just our members. We screened our video, ‘Teacher Choice’, and had a conversation about school choice, letting the teachers weigh in. More than anything, it was informative both for our members and for us, because PACE hadn’t done something like an NSCW event before. PACE didn’t have much experience at the time in advocacy. This provided an opportunity for us to get into the policy sphere a little bit. And the teachers definitely appreciated that there was a teacher-centered organization that was supporting charter schools. There was a consensus that there was a need for school choice.
You partnered with an organization last year called RAFT. What does it do, and how is it making a difference in the lives of teachers?
RAFT is a group that sells affordable teacher supplies. Businesses donate stuff, and teachers come and shop around. It has a large warehouse where we host a lot of events. It’s hard to get teachers to come out to anything because they’re so busy, but RAFT helped up a lot in agreeing to host the event because it enticed teachers to come versus. If we had held it at a hotel conference room, or something, there wouldn’t have been that extra incentive.
Would you say that your event last year was an example of how teachers and education reformers can work together to achieve change?
Definitely. Since last year, we’ve built a whole program where we’re training teachers and giving them more resources to be more effective advocates for education reform. That wasn’t in place last year, so this year we’re hoping to promote that so that the teachers who want to stay involved have an avenue for doing that. Our event for NSCW 2013 will probably look a lot like our event last year. I think we’ll be holding it again at RAFT, this year. We hope to include some bigger-name guest speakers, as well.
What advice would you give to other NSCW planners out there who may be holding an event this year for the first time?
If you don’t have any other option other than to do it at a hotel or public space, that’s OK, but try to be creative and thoughtful about where you host your events. Not every place has a RAFT, but just getting some additional draw that will incentive people to attend is important.