A teacher speaks her mind

Mr. Obama, I am disappointed in you. After all of the hope that surrounded your campaign, to see that you, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, supported such a hopeless decision as the mass firing of all the teachers in the Central Falls, R.I., high school was truly disheartening.

I am a teacher working in a high-need subject (math) in a struggling school in a struggling district just outside of Boston. I go to work every day 45 minutes before I am supposed to arrive. After working an already extended school day (the kids are there for eight hours) I stay another two hours longer than I am required. I spend this time writing lessons, helping students, grading student work and taking care of the assorted administrative tasks that make education run. Sometimes I also do this work at home on the weekends.

As a recent graduate of the education school at Harvard, and an active participant in district professional development, I utilize every applicable current teaching strategy in my practice. I manage my classroom very closely so that, at least while they are with me, my students participate and engage with the material. And still I have students who do not succeed – because so much of education is more than the teacher, or collective of teachers, who work with students each day.

Much of educational success is home life and whether education is reinforced at home. Another significant factor is class size and student load for individual teachers – I am responsible for 142. The more students a teacher has the more individual needs he or she must get to know and manage; too many students can inhibit the success of even the best teacher. Some of it depends on the model used to measure educational success (and whether that model is fair or plays to a student’s strengths or weaknesses). Some of it is other factors entirely.

I would hate to think that all of my effort could be cast aside by my district all because the statistics of some standardized test or some other incomplete measurement suggested that I was not doing a good job.

And what of the impact of this sort of decision on the students involved? There are quite a few students with whom, by mid-February, the time of this decision, I had developed some close relationships. What would be the impact on these students if I was suddenly removed from their lives? What lesson would they take from seeing someone they respect, trust and look to as a source of guidance removed from her position because of how they performed on standardized tests? Is that truly the message that should be sent to children in already troublesome situations?

Additionally troubling is that much of the reason your campaign was so successful was the support of teachers’ unions and educational workers who saw your presidency as an opportunity to do some real good. To support a unilateral decision against teachers and their union is to throw that support back into the faces of every education professional who has stood with you. It undermines our efforts and our collective bargaining rights in a way that can really hurt public education in our country.

Please consider the impact of your support of this decision.

As your administration turns its attention toward education legislation, please consider the true needs of struggling schools and districts. Continue the hopeful message so prevalent in your campaign. Do not succumb to the top-down, reactionary, status quo established by your predecessor. If you truly wish to have a positive impact on education in America, accept teachers as allies in the movement rather than scapegoating us and punishing our students with reduced resources. Ask us, and our students, what we need in order to improve educational results. Fund struggling schools (all of them, not just the ones that win a contest) with as much money as you can manage from the federal budget. Utilize your administration’s brainpower to devise a plan to reach out to families and find ways to truly include them in the educational process. Do whatever is necessary to make education reform a positive experience for all.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/ / CC BY 2.0