Education Opinion

Teachers from Across America Write to Obama

By Anthony Cody — November 05, 2009 5 min read
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Three days ago I posted this open letter to President Obama, asking him to take a closer look at the education policies being enacted by his administration. I invited people to add their own messages to President Obama in the comments, and set up a Facebook group for this purpose as well. Thus far 35 people have posted their thoughts in those places, and 163 have joined the Facebook group. Here is a sample of what is being said:

Teaching is the only profession I can think of where the experts (the teachers) are not the ones driving the reforms/formulating the policy.
Instead we have the people who fled the classroom and spent the majority of their careers telling those of us who remained in the classroom how to be better at what they fled.

That would be like the guy who worked on cars for 2-3 years leaving the oil pit and spending the next 30 years telling mechanics how to fix your car. Who knows more about fixing your car? The one who quit fixing them?...or the one who stayed and did it year after year after year?


Teachers need to be the ones at the table - telling Congress what we need for them to do. Please pardon me for saying this - we teachers need to be telling you what we need for you to do. NOT the folks who taught for a couple of years and left to go on to decide policy the rest of their careers - but those of us who stuck with it and learned from our years of experience and advanced study.

Kelly Meuller, Missouri

Remember that policy levers (RTTT grants, pay for performance, national standards and tests, alternate entry into teaching, non-standard school governance models, and mandating high-tech statistical analysis of achievement) are merely things that policy-makers can do. We can expect those things to shift the balance of decision-making power. But we cannot and should not expect policy creation to shift actual classroom practice or change our mindset from “punishment” to “investment.” Reaching our potential will never happen unless and until instructional practice--what happens between teachers and their students--radically changes.

Nancy Flanagan, Michigan

The most important thing I can teach is critical thinking. That isn’t assessed on the standardized tests we use in our state achievement tests. Since we have had to teach to these tests there isn’t as much time for teaching higher-level t...hinking. Also, creativity has fallen by the wayside. Creative thinking exercises are as important as ever, yet, there is no emphasis placed on giving students creative opportunities.

I hope President Obama will deliver on his promises and listen to those of us who are on the “front lines.” Administrators and politicians really have no idea what we do. They don’t realize that so many of us live to teach. Teachers need to be listened to and heard. Law makers need to support us so that we can support our students and give them what they need to be contributing citizens.

Roberta Zivanov

Those teachers we so fondly recall are still there, but now they are restricted by a system that instructs teachers to remove the creative process and instead teach their students to “critically” analyze between a set of possible responses to a given question and learn to recognize which of four possibilities is more correct than the other. So teachers have become coaches that reinforce strategies based on a formula that two of the responses will likely be ridiculously errant, while the two remaining possibilities will have a semblance of correctness, yet one answer is more perfect than the other, and it is the student’s task to spot the more correct answer and make that selection.

When I was learning, the best lessons were the ones where the teacher through his/her initiative would inspire in the student the importance of the subject matter while challenging the student to develop the lesson further through the students own enterprise.

Albert Pardo

On the subject of merit pay,
I would simply remind you that while some teachers have students who come to school prepared to take on the rigors of learning, others are not so well-prepared. Can we consider merit pay when it doesn’t take into account the hand a teacher is dealt? I am reminded of the “Blueberry Story"---about a businessman (a business dealing with fresh fruits) who thought he could run schools just like a business, only to be reminded by a teacher, that, when HE receives a batch of blueberries that are not up to his standards, he can refuse to take them, teachers take each of these blueberries (students) as they come, with all their differences (ADHD, ADD, Autism, Asberger’s, OCD, ODD, low/high IQs, etc.) and take each one as far as we can.

Jacque Verrall, Washington

I hope that President Obama would push for educational policies that mirror the private school education (Sidwell Friends) his daughters enjoy. Many politicians send their children to this school. Is Sidwell caught up in a testing frenzy? I have a relative who also attends this school and I’ve never heard any mention of the school curriculum focus being on improving test scores. Why is the Sidwell model not the model for public education?

Sigrid Wurthman

I respect your goals for education and the level of engagement you had on this topic while working in Chicago. But I am concerned that the approaches you are using will throw the baby out with the bath water. In attempting to reform education, much of the emphasis seems to be on YOUNG teachers as role models for what is right. I urge you to work more closely with veteran teachers who are successful with high-risk students. These teachers have been through the high-energy, ultra-involved phase that young teachers experience, but have avoided the burnout that leads many new teachers to give up in frustration. The oft-cited culprit for burnout is “the system;" but the goal of changing the ENTIRE system lacks focus, and therefore support, from some of the more experienced educators. Listening to successful long-term educators, in addition to younger teachers, would give the Education Department an idea of how to triage the areas of public education in need of attention. It would also avoid organized opposition to reforms.

Adrienne Mooney Karyadi

What do you think of these views? Will you add your own voice to the dialogue with President Obama?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.