11/27/2013 04:00 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

Teachers' Guide to Surviving Politics at Thanksgiving

I used to teach public high school and in a county jail before that, and my wife is a teacher, too, so I have some pretty strong feelings about teaching, public schools, and teacher pay. To put it bluntly, I believe we are currently paying the price of our national policy of underpaying K-12 educators. So when my friend Ninive Calegari, who runs the Teacher Salary Project, sent me a Guide to Surviving a Political Conversation at Thanksgiving, it resonated.

First of all, I love how she starts out--no hesitation, just jumping into the deep end:

There's no better time to convince your whole family that teacher salaries must go up than at Thanksgiving Dinner. You've got a captive audience of loved ones who are too full to move, so ignore the old adage to not discuss politics at the dinner table. Here's how to do it:

Start your Thanksgiving Dinner with a Toast to Teachers
This Thanksgiving, raise a glass to the teacher you're most thankful for - whether a family member, a teacher of your child's, or a teacher from your childhood. With everyone at the table, plates piled high and glasses full, think of that one teacher and raise a toast to them.

"To the teacher with a graduate-level education who works close to sixty hours a week, earning a salary comparable to that of a toll-taker or bartender, while having to work a second job, and all the while raising a family of their own: A toast and thanks to you for educating and enlightening; for being the wall to lean on; for not leaving the teaching profession for a higher paying job, as many other great teachers have had to do."

Calegari finishes the toast by recognizing the policy makers who understand that good teachers are key to a thriving economy in a democracy. And then she pivots to provide specific instructions no matter what political persuasion is represented at your dinner table, starting with . . .

. . . your more conservative family members:
For the most conservative in your clan, fill their plate with the news that two Republican governors have already committed to raising teachers' salaries because they know they need teaching to be attractive in their state. Remind them that investing in our children's education is actually an investment in our future workforce. Eric Hanushek, an economist from the Hoover Institution, published this study showing that great teachers increase students' future earnings. Emphasize that this kind of economic investment is the best long-term plan for safe and healthy communities. If they need more convincing, let them know that teacher turnover costs the nation $7 billion dollars per year and that we could easily save that money by raising teacher salaries from within existing budgets. Then pass the potatoes, and let them chew on both for a bit as you move on to some of the other guests.

You get the idea. Calegari has arguments for milquetoasty moderates and labor-minded lefties, as well. You should read the whole thing, and then let me know how it goes at your Thanksgiving Feast.