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Teachers Blog their Letters to Obama

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It has been two weeks since I posted my Open Letter to President Obama here, and began a Facebook group to collect letters from other teachers around the country. More than four hundred teachers have joined, and we have collected scores of letters. I plan to assemble all the letters and on Nov. 23rd, send them special delivery to President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan.

In the past few days, we have been joined in our effort by several outstanding teacher bloggers across the country. Here are some excerpts from their letters:

TeachMoore by Mississippi educator Renee Moore:

I am puzzled by the limited number of persons within the DOE, particularly at the senior level, with experience as highly effective or accomplished practitioners in public education. I would think that demonstration of the ability to close the achievement gap, to consistently do the complex work of teaching all students well, would be among the requirements needed to hold a top position in the federal agency that oversees education.

At the community college where I now work, the faculty recently investigated the writing skills of our incoming freshman over a six year period that paralleled the development of our state's language arts testing for public school students under NCLB. Our disturbing conclusion, borne out by hundreds of student writing samples as well as college entrance exam scores, confirmed that as the testing program accelerated, student performance correspondingly declined. A greater percentage of our incoming students exiting the public schools need remediation since the enactment of NCLB than before. Equally distressing is the disillusioning effect that this test focused culture has had on teachers and the chronic critical teacher shortages in the schools whose students were already significantly underserved. Scores of dedicated and talented teachers who want to work in high needs schools face unnecessary penalties for doing so. Not since the Brown decision, has a Federal action done so much damage to the education of those it was intended to help.

Middle School, day by day from a teacher's point of view, by Cossondra George

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.

teacherken of the Daily Kos:

There is a basic question which I do not hear being addressed. What is the purpose of our having public schools? For me, it is to educate the whole person, to prepare our students to learn how to learn, to participate as citizens in a liberal democracy, to develop as persons, to be able to develop the skills that matter to them.

There are skills that employers will need, that we hope our children will develop. Might I suggest that being able to select the least worst from four or five choices on a multiple choice test is not high on the priorities of most employers? Are not things like the ability to work cooperatively, to learn to overcome differences, to persist, to come up with new approaches that might involve thinking outside the box, are all of greater value to almost every employer who wants anything other than a drone? Should not our schools reflect that in how they are structured, in how we teach?

Most of my students are 10th graders. Some are taking College level government in the sophomore years. Each year they have arrived in my classroom with less and less background, a direct outcome of the strictures of No Child Left Behind, which emphasized testing on reading and math, which because those scores were used to evaluate schools increasingly meant a narrowing of their educational experience. Many are frustrated with school, and have not learned how to develop ideas in speaking or in writing - these are not tested, therefore they are not valued. Tying teacher compensation mainly to test scores will only serve to exacerbate this problem.

Mary Tedrow wrote about the project at her blog, Walking to School:
Rather than reform through policymakers, we want reform through teacher voices.
I post the link so any fellow teachers can join their voices with others from around the country in getting lawmakers to heed the advice of career educators. We now have the electronic tools to make the classroom teachers' voice loom large. In addition, we are not affiliating ourselves with a union message - just talking about good practice and what works with our most struggling students. If you wish to have your voice included, please take a look at the site and add your vision.

From perusing some of the messages posted thus far, it is clear that accomplished teachers have a similar messages: Teaching is about building relationships, creating safety so young minds are willing to take risks, and running alongside our developing students rather than standing at the finish line keeping score.

Marsha Ratzel, Reflections of a Techie, writes:

Additionally we see more and more students who no longer get to do science in elementary schools. Under the microscope and intense pressure to perform better and better in reading and math, schools have cut time spent on anything but the tested subjects. One article I read said that time spent on nontested subjects (science and social studies) have been cut by 44%. 44%....can you imagine how dull it is to be in school where there is very little science and social studies. Can you imagine how ill prepared and how little background students have when they get to me at the middle school level? It's tragic.

The way in which your policy is moving is only going to continue this narrowing of curriculum. It is going to have the opposite effect that I think you want...it will not produce more scientists...in fact, I think students will be less and less interested in science if it is reduced to reading and answer fact based questions. The idea that the remedy for all the ills of science is a national curriculum...well, that's ridiculous. The only thing this will accomplish is more companies developing narrowly defined sets of facts that will generate more standardized tests for students. It isn't the curriculum that's the problem.

Please, please, please....you need someone include teachers in reform policy making. Clearly the people who advise you now don't have a clue what helps students in the classroom. I'd invite you to come to my room any time, any day and talk with my students. They'll tell you in a second what helps them learn more.

What do you think? Will you add your voice to the chorus? What would your Letter to President Obama say?

4 Comments

Funding formulas need to be examined. Rural schools are in economic dire straits. We can't compete with urban funding sources. SOS in rural America.

President Obama, as you look at educational reform, please do not forget funding for career technology programs (vocational programs). There are still plenty of high wage, high skill jobs in the United States that do not require four year college degrees. I have never paid a plumber or an electrician minimum wage and I guess most Americans have not either. These are career areas that we need to ensure that we let students know they are respectable careers to pursue. Often when students express an interest in careers that require them to use their hands and their brains they are made to feel like second class citizens.

Dear President Obama,
I became an elementary teacher over 20 years ago to change the world. I was excited about imparting knowledge to children and to help them learn how to think, reason, cooperate, and creatively and non-violently solve problems.
Teaching is an art. And knowing how to reach an individual class or much less, an individual child cannot be quantified.
While standards are important as guidelines, the quality of educating of a whole person is immeasurable. Recently, I have found myself so obsessed with bringing my test scores up in the areas of math, reading, and science - the subjects in which my fourth graders are being tested, that I feel that so much about the art of my teaching is being lost.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a student I taught in a Philadelphia inner city 6th grade class eight years ago. She had lived in very difficult circumstances. This is a portion of the message: "...my mom is OK to (sic), just try to get by these ruff (sic) times together but still looking on the bright side of things. Wow i am still shock that i found you, i have you know i never gave up writing poetry. I have note books full of them. I remember you where the one that introduced to the world of poetry. I am glad i met you ms.Leff you are my favorite teacher, i still even remember the poem you recited to me it was by Langston Hughes i believe the poem is called dreamers

'Bring me all your dreams, you dreamers, bring me all your heart melodies for i will wrap them in a blue cloud clothe away from the two ruff (sic) fingers of the earth.' "

I am so proud that I affected this young women's life so profoundly. This letter reflects the essence of why I teach. I can barely imagine getting a letter from a student in eight years telling me they will never forget getting a proficient grade on a standardized test.

Leslie Schwartz Leff

Leslie,
Thank you for stating so eloquently the reason so many of us chose to teach. We have got to keep these dreams alive.

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