Passionate educator, involved member, and legislative candidate. All of these accurately describe IEA and West Ada Education Association member Natalie MacLachlan. But there is so much more beyond these roles that give insight into what drives her to be so engaged for her students, her colleagues, and her community.
Natalie grew up in Boise, graduating from Centennial High School and then from Boise State University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre Arts. After working professionally in theater in Los Angeles, she returned to Idaho and combined her two great passions—theater and teaching. Stints as a substitute teacher in Boise and West Ada, along with coaching drama at Capital High School and working at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival set the stage for her to begin teaching full-time, and she has never looked back. “I think I always knew I would be a teacher, but I wanted to invest in my other passions first,” she says. “My family was over the moon when I told them I was coming home, and they said being a teacher is exactly what I was meant to be.”
Now in her sixth year teaching theater arts and exploratory visual arts at Lake Hazel Middle School in the West Ada School District, Natalie loves building relationships with her students. “When I can build trust and rapport, that human-to-human respect with a student, there’s nothing better than that,” she says. “When they feel seen, respected, and empowered by you, they in turn respect and cherish you as a person who believes in them and will always help them.”
Tying together her dual passions of theater and teaching gives Natalie a great sense of satisfaction—and provides significant, although sometimes under the radar, benefits for her students. “I believe these kinds of courses are crucial, particularly in a world so rich with technology that can breed isolation and social insecurity,” she says. “Theater is grounded in literacy, which is the responsibility of every educator. Students also learn soft skills that are valuable in the workforce. Things like how to interact socially, how to assess their feelings, how to communicate not only through language but also through tone and body language.”
Advocacy and Politics: No Half Measures Here
It didn’t take long for Natalie to see the flaws and shortcomings in Idaho’s public education system, or to jump headfirst into doing something about it. “Most of us are doing this job because we care, because we want to help children and families, because we want to provide knowledge, safety, and help to those who need it,” she says. “However, we face a major obstacle in the lack of funding for schools in Idaho and the lack of respect for educators.”
While a lack of appreciation for professional educators has been an issue in Idaho for quite some time, things really came to a head over the last year, prompting MacLachlan to make a momentous decision. With acrimony and vitriol coming from the Idaho legislature at every turn, she filed paperwork and began campaigning for the House seat in her home legislative district. “As an educator, I watched how public schooling was attacked during the last session and could not stand by any longer,” Natalie exclaims. “I want to see an Idaho legislature that represents all of us—regular, everyday working folks.”
MacLachlan also identifies a dichotomy that is very troubling for Idaho public schools. Idaho ranks 51st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per-student funding but is also experiencing explosive growth in population. “We have to fully fund education so that Idaho moves up from the absolute lowest ranking in the nation,” she says. “That means growth paying for itself so that those who have lived and worked here forever aren’t paying for our new schools, roads, and fire stations through their taxes and levies.”
The lack of funding for public schools and the lack of respect for educators have direct implications for students. Insufficient resources mean larger class sizes and less personalized instruction for students. A constant bombardment of criticism means more educator turnover, so students and families don’t get valuable consistency. “Students suffer when our teachers are not supported, but when our own emotional cups are empty, we have nothing left to pour out for our students,” Natalie notes. “Being valued and affirmed is an important human need. We try to give that to our students and to the parents we engage with, and we need it in return!”
While the recent legislative chaos prompted her to run for office, Natalie has been honing her skills for just such an opportunity. “I’m all about problem-solving, communicating, and getting things done, which is part of what led me to politics,” she says. “I realized I’m good at representing people, hearing their needs and concerns, and then having the skill set to speak out publicly about it or connect and network to find resolutions.” You can learn more about Natalie at her campaign website, www.natalie4idaho.com.