My friend and colleague, Anthony Cody, has started a movement to get the attention of President Obama through a letter writing campaign among educators and others concerned about the future of public education in the United States, how the decisions about education are being made, and the impact those decisions have on students.
Please consider joining this effort on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=166176941518. The power in this effort comes from the volume of members and the variety of voices. Please help our voices be heard! Join this group, post your letter or thoughts. If you are not on FB, please add your letter here and I will see that is added. You may also email me your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is my own letter to President Obama:
Dear President Obama,
On behalf of my 7th grade students, and all students in our country, I ask you to carefully consider your decisions regarding education. Our country’s future depends upon the future of these children.
No Child Left Behind set the stage for educational reform, but has veered from its initial intent which was to truly leave no child behind, to one of bureaucracy, unrealistic expectations of teachers and students, and a push to make all children fit the same mold.
As a teacher, I agree I should be held accountable for my actions in my classroom. Teachers are public servants in the purest sense of the words. However, I also know there is more to creating an educated child than filling in bubbles on a standardized test can measure.
Each child that walks into my door comes with a different skill set, in both social skills and curricular knowledge. Some of them are bright and capable, soaking up new knowledge like sponges, excited by each new topic, exploring independently. Others struggle despite their best efforts. Learning is tough for them, for a variety of reasons, from natural ability to lack of prior knowledge, to some sort of learning disability. Still others come to school begrudgingly, fighting every attempt to engage them. These students deal with issues beyond my ability to touch them. They are often in trouble with the law, even at the young age of 12. They have issues with drug and alcohol abuse. They have mental health issues. Some of these students do respond to my efforts; others, simply come to school because it is court ordered.
Expecting that all of these students will walk out of my classroom with the exact same skill set at the end of the year is unrealistic. These are not pieces of wood to be carved, or clay lumps to be molded. They are children, human beings, with different needs, wants and desires, and perhaps most importantly, different starting points. I can teach them, I can expose them to new knowledge, I can give the opportunities to learn and grow, but I cannot force this process. Despite my best efforts, some of them will simply refuse to learn.
Funding for education is another issue which concerns me. My students deserve to have the same opportunities as students in more affluent school districts. While I realize that technology is simply a tool for teachers to use, more equitable distribution of technology resources needs to be a priority. Students at other schools are engaged with SmartBoards, new laptops with exciting software, and other gadgets that spark their imagination and creativity. My students are using laptops that are so old, most are missing multiple keys; their processing speeds are so slow working on them takes longer than handwriting a paper would; they have no cool software and won’t even run online programs such as Google Earth. We cannot use our laptops to collaborate and communicate with students in other places. We cannot link to famous authors, mathematicians and scientists. We cannot use GIS software to analyze data. We are living and learning with 20th Century technology in a 21st Century world.
We are a rich nation, with many resources. Yet, too often our spending priorities are not aligned with what we say our priorities are. If our children are our priority, if we truly believe that education is the key to our future, then we need to fund education adequately. Educational opportunities should not be equitable to socioeconomic status. Our current educational system locks children of poverty into the same cycle as their parents. Until education is funded equitably and adequately, our students will not leave school prepared for their adult lives.
I love being a teacher. It truly defines who I am and all I believe. However, I am becoming disenchanted with the lack of support financially and professionally to allow me to create the learning environment I know my students need and deserve. I spend too much valuable time pushing them forward in a curriculum they are not prepared to learn, one that will not serve their adult needs, and one that was designed by people unknowledgeable about the learning styles and needs of young adolescents. I am forced to prepare them to take a one day test which will supposedly measure 181 days of all their worth as students, and my worth as a teacher. I am forced to dip into my own pockets to fund classroom activities, and even to provide simple materials such as paper and pencils. I work long hours, with often little support from parents or administration, trying to create a conducive learning environment for my students. I do all this because I love my students, I believe in their potential, and I want them to succeed. Please show your belief in their potential by making education a priority in your administration, listening to real teachers, in real classrooms, and allowing us to help you mold public education.
Newberry Middle School