Mr. Sheehan Goes to Washington
Updated: Oct 4, 2018
This year, I’m going to talk a lot less and listen a lot more. No, seriously! If I’ve seemed much quieter on social media, it’s because I am embracing my listening-learner skills. I am going to do the thing that I ask my students to do - to tackle something new and trust the learning process. I will become a learner in an area in which I have nearly no experience.
Last Spring, I was selected as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow for the 2018-19 school year. Fellows are assigned to a federal agency to learn more about how their agency interacts with Congress and other agencies primarily on STEM education policy issues. This year’s class has placements with NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Library of Congress (LOC), and the Department of Energy. A subgroup of individuals - five of us this year - are serving in Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.
Over the summer, the five Hill Fellows completed interviews with Senate and House offices to find our best fit. I had 12 interviews over two days in the heat of D.C. summer and it was physically exhausting. I think I covered about 6 miles walking back and forth between Senate and House buildings. I’d have a 15 minute interview, then have 15 minutes to do a mad dash across the Capitol grounds, step into a bathroom to wipe away the sweat, and complete another interview.
It was by coincidence that all of us ended up on the House side this year. It took me a while to weigh which office I wanted to work for, but the opportunity to work for Congressman Raúl Grijalva was too good to pass up. Congressman Grijalva’s district includes the neighborhood in which I grew up and my high school in Avondale, Arizona.The third congressional district of Arizona also covers the southwestern part of the state including Tucson and along the Mexican border.
Many friends have been asking what I’ll be doing in D.C. through the year and the short answer is policy. Some tasks I expect to do once things get rolling are identifying co-sponsorship opportunities for my Congressman, helping draft amendments and/or bills, researching policy issues in education, housing, science, and technology, and working closely with other Congressional offices and federal agencies. That last part - working with other staffers and agencies - is at the heart of everything that I’ll be doing in our nation’s capital.
This new role is tough, though. As someone who is used to moving around a lot and leading the show, I’m now seated most of my day at a computer and carefully following instructions from my mentor and colleagues. I’ve sat in briefings, furiously writing notes on issues I have no background information on, and used an app (CamCard) to keep track of all the business cards I’ve collected. I’ve felt underprepared for sessions on the legislative process, committee rules, amendments, and policy research.
But now, I’m using Congress.gov like a semi-pro, looking up bills, co-sponsors, amendments, and committee referrals. I understand the difference between authorizations and appropriations and know where to go to find estimated costs of proposed legislation. It’s fun, exhausting, confusing, enlightening, frustrating, and inspiring. I’m in this state of disequilibrium, but it is in this space that I know I can shine.
After this year, I’m hoping to return to my school district in a new teacher leader role. This fellowship tends to be a pivot point for many educators, but I know in my heart I want to be back in front of kids. I also know I still want to engage in these policy conversations and continue to advocate for helpful legislation. I’m confident I can find a way to wear both hats and lead from the classroom next year.
Each Fellow's experience is unique. Although five of us are on the Hill in House buildings, we've been tasked with different duties, have varied work spaces, and engage with our staffers in different ways. And our year looks very different from our colleagues who are placed in agencies. To get a feel for what an agency-assigned Fellow experiences, check out Rachel Stagner's website at https://www.msstagner.com/. She has the honor and pleasure of working at NASA! And if you're thinking all of this sounds very interesting, I HIGHLY recommend you apply for the Fellowship here.
For a quick family update, Kaysi, is still doing her thing as an English teacher. Teaching in a new state forced her out of her comfort zone, but she has adapted well and is right at home again! Our little one is in a great daycare again and we’re truly thankful that she’s in good hands! Parents know that your productivity at work is completely dependent upon your child being well taken care of and we’re blessed to have found that place for our daughter. We're enjoying taking in all the sights and sounds of D.C.!
We are missing our Oklahoma and Texas crews, but we’re enjoying our new adventure on the east coast! To stay up to date with my D.C. details, follow me on Twitter @SPSheehan. Also, my new role requires that I state that opinions expressed here and on Twitter are my own and not representative of my office, my Congressman, the US government, the Department of Energy, or the Albert Einstein Fellowship. More to come!