Education Opinion

Teachers’ Letters Reveal Our Reality: Is Obama Listening?

By Anthony Cody — November 11, 2009 4 min read
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Ten days have passed since I posted my Open Letter to President Obama. The Facebook group, Teachers’ Letters to Obama, has grown to more than 300 members. Scores of teachers have posted their own passionate and insightful letters. I am compiling them all, and in a few days will have them delivered to the White House and Department of Education. Please come join us and share your own reality. The policymakers need to hear from us!

Unfortunately, this town, like many of the overlooked small towns in the nation, is suffering. With the state of the economy this year, what little industry that was here has been closed or has been forced to lay off a large number of employees. So, the small number of jobs is getting smaller. I have not seen any benefit of stimulus money, only more people jobless, fewer opportunities to find work, and high budget and salary cuts in the school system. The only people who can help the economy have been hurt the most: the average working citizens. These are the taxpayers who fund the school systems and the welfare that their neighbors live off of. The community is crumbling. How are extra regulations, standardized tests, and improvement-based funding going to relieve this problem? They will not, and cannot. We need new methods to build community stability and therefore enhance the county’s educational system.

I continue to be concerned with “merit pay.” I work in an urban school which has been dealt many blows. Now, my immediate neighborhood has become more impoverished and we are serving almost 95% of our students FREE breakfast and lunch. On top of that, I am teaching in a special ed. kindergarten class. My students may never meet the critical mark forced upon us by the state. Does that mean I do not teach them? NO, but I have to teach them at the level they are at... I can’t expect them to compose a sentence if they can not even write their name on a paper. My fear is that the current policies are going to punish teachers who choose to teach in my position because the population they teach is not ready to meet the standards that “someone” has set in place. What is to become of schools like mine? Chances are, quality teachers will be run off to districts that have a chance, and the students in my district will continually have new and inexperienced teachers.

I have been unhappy in my career path in the past few years because I feel that the TEST is all that we do. I have no freedom to teach my students about cultures, diversity, or community because I have to be teaching 2 hours of reading from the prescribed curriculum, math from the prescribed curriculum, and still expect exemplary behavior (without any time to teach and review it). My students now are not leaving my class any smarter than they did when I had more freedom to teach what they needed, while sneaking in a little fun and excitement. In fact, I think they are suffering because there is no magic left in my class...all there is are the TEXTS... which we have to use in order to improve test readiness.

I have taught young children for 14 years, and am appalled at the direction that education seems to be taking. My preschool students are mostly small town or rural children of poverty. I try to provide them with a nurturing environment which will stimulate their natural curiosity, love of learning and enjoyment of school. In recent years, kindergarten has become increasingly regimented, with little time for social interaction and much time spent working at tables or being lectured to.

The mandates handed down by the federal government do not reflect good practices or understanding of current research regarding how children learn. All this pressure on teachers and children to perform leaves little room for the things that make life and learning worthwhile: creative expression, the excitement of discovery, the joy of learning.
Martha Garner-Duhe, Lafayette, LA

Please allow us to address how the course set by you and Secretary Duncan will not create the future you are working toward in other areas of public policy. We believed you were listening to us. Now, we aren’t certain. Allow America’s teachers into your circle. Please create a National Forum for the Teacher Voice. We are policy leaders, researchers, authors, and curriculum experts. We work a second job on weekends to make ends meet and then purchase classroom supplies from our own pockets. We know that the high stakes tests that we are doing everything we can to help our students pass actually fail to equip them for jobs for which they must compete in the 21st Century.
Jennifer L. Barnett Teacher, Alabama

Update: Our letters posted here and on the Facebook site caught the attention of a reporter from NPR’s Morning Edition, who phoned me a couple of days ago for an interview. The story ran yesterday, and can be downloaded here. He captured a small bit of our frustration, but we have a lot more work to do to get our message out.

What do you think of the perspectives shared here? What is the reality in YOUR school? What do you want our policymakers to know?

Photo by Anthony Cody

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.

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