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Feeling Slighted, District of Columbia Teachers Fire Back at Betsy DeVos

By Alyson Klein — February 18, 2017 2 min read
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Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made her first visit to a public school, Washington, D.C.'s Jefferson Middle School Academy. Protestors tried to block her from going in the door, but she made it inside and talked to teachers, school leaders, and Antwan Wilson, the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

After emerging from the school, DeVos pronounced it “awesome.” But in an interview with a conservative columnist, Cal Thomas of Townhall, DeVos described her visit this way:

I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more success from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.

Jefferson’s teachers did not take kindly to DeVos’ contention that they’re waiting to be told what to do. They fired back at DeVos on Twitter Friday night:

The teachers went on to talk about some of the educators DeVos met with. They noted for instance, that math teacher Latisha Trent, who has been at Jefferson for three years, has helped her students grow multiple levels every year. “She isn’t waiting to be told what to do,” they wrote. They also gave shout-outs to band teacher Jessica Harris, who started the school’s music program “from the ground up” and Morgan Markbreiter, who teaches video game design and runs the school’s free tutoring program. Markbreiter “isn’t waiting to be told what to do,” they wrote.

Even former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson took to social media to show her disapproval of DeVos’ comments:

DeVos also jumped on Twitter and tried to assauge the teachers’ concerns. She said she was simply trying to make the case that they need to be “empowered” and freed from “government dictates” although she wasn’t specific about what, exactly she meant by that:

The incident seems to be one more example of how difficult it may be for DeVos—the first education secretary in decades who has never worked professionally in a school district, state government, or university—to gain credibility with public school teachers and make use of the bully pulpit of her new office.

After a shaky performance at her confirmation hearing, DeVos became one of President Donald Trump’s most embattled nominees. The U.S. Senate deadlocked on her nomination, 50-50, after two rural Republican senators—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—pronounced her unqualified. Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to put her in office—a first for the confirmation of any cabinet official.

And, unlike her recent predecessors, DeVos has brought on the U.S. Marshals Service to protect her, the Washington Post reported. Typically, the education secretary is guarded by a team of civil servants, including some former Secret Service agents.