A Letter to Oprah
Thank you for your concern regarding education in America. Your recent show brings to the attention of our nation the plight of the education system. Unfortunately, Oprah, even you will find that the issue goes much deeper than what Bill and Melinda gates can afford.
In one segment, the founders of what sounded like a charter school, KIPP, believe that there is too much blaming going on and not enough coordination. They certainly are correct. But at one point, one of the men said that we, the teachers, are responsible for failing schools. He implied that their method of 24 hour contact availability is one of the reasons why KIPP succeeds.
I won't lie; I enjoy my home life. And, this profession that I have chosen does get treated like the others that are on-call 24 hours a day.
I love teaching. I have succeeded with some students and failed with others (just like Senators have suceeded and failed). I have been responsible for some students not succeeding, just as a I've been culpable for their success (just like Presidents succeed and fail). But, as I reflected on my talks today with 38 failing 9th graders in my English 9 class, I couldn't help but feel terrible. Am I responsible for their failure? I am wondering what the founders of KIPP, or Bill and Melinda Gates could do to help me. You see, of the 38 who are failing, all of them have assignments that they did not turn in; and not just worksheet time fillers. I mean real and substantive assignments. One student told me that "I just didn't feel like doing it."
Certainly I am not responsbile for that, am I?
The question for billionaire Bill is, how can our society fund these small schools, and when are we, as a society, going to really value our educators. Bill doesn't have to worry about whether he can afford his Medina, Washington home. I have to worry about whether I can afford my nearly arrived daughter along with my 1700 square foot home in Snohomish County, Washington.
Now, normally I am not one to complain about teacher pay; but when billionaires start bitching about the education system, I get a bit testy. We live in a society that is willing to pay our U.S. Senators, even the less informed ones, 162,000 dollars (infoplease.com), but our average public teachers a mere 46,752 dollars (NEA). I don't want to sound unpatriotic, for fear of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity (and even Allen Colmes), but these senators don't serve as important of a role in society as the average teacher. Yes, Oprah, that is a case of blatant bias, but I believe it.
The truth is that this issue is deeply fractured. Your guest was correct in stating that we need to come together and the blame game needs to stop. But, while NCLB holds me accountable for making students learn, no one is willing to touch the issue of holding parents and students accountable as well. I need a license to teach. I am held to a high standard, and rightfully so. But what measure is in place to hold the the parents to that same standard? When that happens, on a federal level, my guess is that more of my colleagues will sit at the table and break bread with anyone who wants. We are in this business to serve our students, but the profession has long been treated as a ministry like Mother Theresa helping the poor of Calcutta.
Oprah, my favorite author, Frederick Buechner, speaks of one's vocation as a calling, and that in all truth, more often than not, our vocations chooses us as much as we choose it. I find this true. I would not want to be doing anything else in the world. My superintendant says that teaching is the most important job on earth. It is time this nations shows my profession that they believe that.