Well, I am in absolute awe of fellow Teacher Leader Network member and blogger, Anthony Cody. What began as a personal open letter to Obama on Facebook, has blossomed into a full-on social networking movement. Based on sheer eloquence, persistence, and social networking know-how, Cody and his fellow TLNer, Kansas City teacher Marsha Ratzel, have gotten Arne Duncan himself to agree to talk to a few teachers next week. In order to prepare for the call, Anthony’s asking folks to write concise letters to Duncan via his Letters to Obama Facebook campaign. Please keep in mind that if you write, try to keep Duncan’s new blueprint in mind so that you are referring to current policies and not Bush’s NCLB left-overs.
Here’s my letter I just posted this morning:
Dear Arne Duncan,
I am a teacher, a blogger, an author, a wife, and a mother. Before I go into what I think we need to do to help education, I want to acknowledge what you have inherited and how difficult it must be to fix a machine where so many cogs are broken. I know too that education feels like a black hole, an inherited problem for your administration, but it has been a culminating failure of multiple administrations, of a society who consistently votes against their own children, as well as a failure of the educational system, which has led us to where we are today.
But I need you to turn your face to us, the teachers in the crowd now, for advice. We need you and our leaders to listen to those of us who have been fighting alongside our children all along. For too long have we been left out of the rooms and away from the tables, and look where we are today. We are the ones you have to focus your attention on now: not the test-makers, not the textbook companies, us.
To simplify my thoughts so that perhaps they might be heard, I have honed in on four main components that I believe are deeply important for educational reform:
1. There is an equation of success for education. It is simple and it can only work with all variables intact and supported:
Student effort + teacher guidance + government funding + family support = school and student achievement
No longer can schools or teachers be solely held accountable for the failures of a broken system. Yes, I see in your blueprint that you are trying to acknowledge that there are elements outside of education that must be addressed, but this must be more aggressive and targeted for true change to begin.
2. Yes, teacher quality is an issue, but it is one that can be solved without villain-ising teachers as a whole. You cannot cut down an apple tree because of one diseased fruit. The systems you criticize: tenure, the seniority list, etc…we all understand your criticisms of them. But they do not define the majority of hard-working, talented, and self-sacrificing troops of experienced and new teachers out there who are dedicated to this profession.
Each of them talk about the complexities of these issues, complexities that you are overlooking, I assume, to appear strong to those who want to see a Democratic bicep. But just because many of your constituents do not understand the subtleties does not mean you need to cater to them, swinging an axe over your head, beating your shield. Change will show strength, Mr. Duncan. And change can only happen with teachers at your side and at your table.
3. The National Standards do not reflect enough the skills our students need for their future. Educational Technology is vital. A student cannot apply for a job without understanding some degree of Internet Literacy. Yet funding for Ed tech has been cut. You claim that students must be “College and Career Ready” but vocational funding has been cut, electives have been cut, student choice has been cut. And student choice and sampling of interests has long been the basis for professional taste testing in the K-12 system. A student who hasn’t tasted Speech and Debate or Woodshop, who hasn’t tried Home Ec or Orchestra, who cannot see through the sea of students in their AP class or cannot get remedial help in Reading will not be “college and career ready.”
4. Teachers, great ones, are always training. Just as students evolve, so must teachers. I understand somehow that education is unique in that you see teachers as the authorities who go through their prep programs and should, somehow, come out (cue microwave ding!) done with our own education. But to maintain the skills of our students’ futures, we ourselves must be proficient in an ever-evolving skill set as well as be brilliant and engaging communicators. Yet funding for our own training continues to be cut time and time again. There must be a shift in how society feels about what it means to desire current training. It is not a weakness, but a strength to be constantly learning. And while I don’t expect society as a whole to believe it, I do expect my Secretary of Education to believe it and support it.
The bottom line is this, Mr. Duncan: the very principals in your blueprint are degraded by the recent cuts and lack of funding. We need you to swivel your gaze back to those who know best. We are here, right in front of you. Our intentions are for the good of the student. We know our missive and we are living it every day. Listen to the teachers.