How I became a teacher’s lawyer
On Monday April 9th, I used a vacation day to walk with more than 200 women attorneys from the Oklahoma Bar Association to the State Capitol which is about four blocks. The previous Monday, I was at the Capitol as a parent, certified teacher, and graduate student pursuing a M.Ed. (My vacation days are very valuable because I’ll need them during the next few weeks to campaign for State Senate.)
Gathering with more than 200 women attorneys was rewarding experience and reminded me of the many ways I’ve had to navigate my career and profession around my gender.
Growing up in rural Oklahoma with a mom and dad who did not communicate strict gender roles to me, I was of the mindset that I could engage and pursue any passion God ignited in my heart and mind. An awareness of the barriers I’d face was dim.
Two memories during my high school years foreshadowed what I would one day face and form a resilient response. The first was the response of a school principal. (He was terminated after the first year he was hired for being to authoritative, and domineering.) I was on the Speech and Debate team in my high school, and 4.0 GPA Valedictorian. It was common for me to confidently declare my hopes and dreams and unsolicited opinions. I stuck my foot in my mouth on many occasions. After one of these proclamations, I remember hearing my high school principal saying, “Remember, behind every good man, is a good woman.” He offered this to temper my passion under the hierarchy of whether or not it would make my man, better. There was no awareness or acceptance that I might have a moral agency that would benefit from the support of a good man, friend, team, network, etc.
The second encounter happened at church camp when I declared “I want to be a president of a bank, because there were few women who were bank presidents.” My “camp counselor” who was a young female college student, proceeded to tell me why this was “wrong.” In her view, it was prohibited for women to have any leadership role, even in non-religious settings, that might require a man’s compliance. After pointing out how unworkable this view was, and how often it is violated in her own world, I recalled stories about how Jesus empowered every woman he encountered to pursue and experience a free moral agency without male approval. Judas is negatively memorialize for his disapproval of a woman’s initiative to act on her passion who was notably honored for her sacrificial devotion.
Over time, I’ve read more, and experienced more about the ways women are impeded in expressing and fulfilling our gifts and callings. I’ve had my #metoo moments. I’ve worked around awkward and threatening dynamics. I’ve requested equal pay and was chastised and walked away from the job. I’ve worried how to meet the needs of young children, advance in my career, and embrace the rewards of parenting. I’ve been encouraged to “get in line” through people talking through my husband. I’ve been criticized for how I look and what I wear, and for my passions, goals, and assertiveness in advocating for the rights of marginalized and alienated people. I’ve been protected by my race and other factors from experiencing many worse experiences, but I experienced enough to know that women have unique barriers that are unnecessary and morally wrong.
This week when I gathered with the women I could see that we were getting better at asserting ourselves to be treated with dignity and support. Young women attorneys brought their children and babies. Some were itty bitty. Women dressed in all ways, mostly very practical for the 4 blocks we would walk. Women were represented from every kind of position that were previously restricted only to men. As I walked up the stairs of the Capitol, I listened to an attorney, who graduated from law school about ten years earlier than me, share how the restrooms at the law school had to be renovated to accommodate the increasing number of women.
The morning before the walk, I set up a number 81010 for teachers to text “ @votelouder” to answer questions from teachers, and give updates from the progress of the women lawyers’ advocacy efforts. This texting channel was opened to alleviate my concern that the women lawyers were going to “rescue” the teachers. I wanted my teacher friends to know that I was taking their concerns and their solutions with me as I lobbied our lawmakers.
Throughout the day, I kept getting texts from teachers asking me their legal questions about bills pending, initiative petitions, and other education related matters. The ultimate committees established by the women lawyers did not have much interest to me, but I did embrace the helpfulness of answering teachers’ legal questions.
Since Monday April 9th, I’ve answered dozens of legal questions for teacher’s and I look forwarding to doing this as long as I’m able. I often grieve the days I spent working in public schools, but for now, I’ll count the blessings of my new role as a teachers’ lawyer.