featured in The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet
I applaud the resolution of educators such as Gerald J. Conti and Kris L. Nielsen, for publicly deciding to remove themselves from the classroom, especially because they have used their dissent as a platform to spread awareness about current issues in America’s education reform. If you haven’t come across their widely-read letters of resignation, you can find them here and here, respectively, and they are worth the read. After having spent the past month in Finland, however, gaining new insights from the Finnish education system and having the freedom of time to reflect on my own experiences as a teacher in New York, I have a different kind of letter. Call it my Letter of Resolution. I wrote it because I have had enough. I can’t handle any more top-down; I am ready for some bottom-up. I hope you will join me.
Mr. Arne Duncan
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue,
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Mr. Duncan,
I will not be leaving the teaching profession anytime soon. This is despite the fact that current educational reform efforts are continually pushing some of the best and brightest educators closer and closer to the door of the classroom, if they haven’t already left.
In spite of the fact that you consistently attempt to find new ways to hijack the time I spend teaching, planning, collaborating, reflecting, researching, conferencing, bettering myself, and addressing my students’ needs, I manage to complete all of the menial administrative tasks you mandate in an effort to comparatively measure my efficacy in the classroom.
I ignore the fact that you ignore the fact that I earned a Master’s degree, received numerous teaching awards and have nothing but exemplary observations in my personnel folder.
I dutifully administer tests that narrow my curriculum and steal time away from the authentic assessments my co-teachers and I spent years developing to encourage student growth and reflection on their own learning.
I allow you to make your deterministic assumptions that the most effective means to an end can be externally defined, controlled and measured in a “standardized” manner, ignoring my students’ diversity, prior knowledge, skills, beliefs, attitudes and differences in motivation and attention.
I seek out meaningful professional development on my own because every faculty meeting consists of me and my colleagues being force-fed new mandates, while we watch our autonomy wither as hastily as our morale.
I do all of this despite the fact that during this time, you remind me repeatedly that I need to be patient because we are “crossing a bridge as we build it” –an unbelievably ineffective metaphor that is worrisome at best and at worst, absurd.
But I thank you for it.
And not because it isn’t inane. It is. But it made me recognize something that has reignited my commitment to my students into a flame that even the most ineffective and watered-down standardized assessment can’t extinguish:
This impossible, hap-hazard, horribly thought-out metaphorical bridge my colleagues and I are on right now, it also contains (in my metaphorical pockets, if you will) my students, their parents, our community, and our collective future as a society …and I refuse to stand by and watch while you let us fall into the abyss because you are too busy catering to private industry rather than listening to what your own Equity and Excellence Commission advises you to do.
By next September, many of my fellow American teachers will have thrown in the towel and even more potential teachers, who are graduating at the top of their classes and might have made the finest educators our schools have ever seen, won’t even consider entering the profession because of the debacle that has resulted from the misguided effort to fix our schools.
But I will be in my classroom.
…because the country does need educational activists, like Kris Nielsen and Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody and countless others, who spend their days and nights fighting against the harmful effects of the latest wave of reform measures. But what the country also needs are more Mr./Mrs. ________________ (insert the name of that teacher you had who inspired a passion for learning in you, Mr. Duncan).
This is the end of my resignation; although I will remain in my classroom, I will no longer be a silent, complacent bystander, or worse, participant, while you have your way with the American education system; I have invested too much and there is too much at stake; neither my students nor I are going to end up in that abyss …not while there is still time to turn things around.
English Language Arts Teacher
Newburgh , NY
I am mailing this letter tomorrow (10-April-2013) via snail mail from Finland, so it might take a bit…
If you are inspired to get involved/educated/read more, here are some great places to start: