My colleagues and I in state government talk a lot about our public school system, and many of us make decisions that impact elementary and secondary education. But how many state officials have real time, first-hand knowledge about what goes on in Louisiana’s public school classrooms?

Ive got an idea. Why don’t we ask our elected officials to substitute teach without pay at least three times a year in a public school? I’m not talking about speaking 20 minutes to a civics class or showing up for a photo opportunity. I mean being an actual substitute teacher in a public school for eight hours a day three days a year and making that responsibility a condition of our jobs. We could call it the Teach to Serve Program.

I was a substitute teacher last year for 11th, 6th and 7th grades in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools. I plan on substitute teaching at least three more times this school year. It was an extraordinary experience. I learned so much.

One of the things I learned is that teaching is hard work and is more difficult today than ever before. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that today we too often expect our teachers to be both teachers and parents.

I also learned that it is harder to be a kid today. Every year, it seems, our young people confront challenges like illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, teenage pregnancy and gang violence at an earlier age. I think most of us believe that every child can learn, given the opportunity, but there are so many more issues today that distract our kids from taking advantage of that opportunity.

Based on my experience as a substitute teacher, I will ask the Legislature to consider a Teach to Serve law this spring. If improvements to our school system begin in the classroom, shouldn’t we ask our state officials to spend some time there? They’ll learn more about education in three days of substitute teaching than by reading entire volumes of policy reports.