Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Letter to Oprah

Dear 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 (, 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.


At 5:56 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Great post! I did not get to see the episode, but did notice from a blurb on CNN that it seemed to revolve around the all too common theme that the public school system is failing and the private sector can save our educational failure. It seemed to forget about the responsibility of government to properly fund education.

At 12:59 AM , Blogger LesMO said...

I think what Oprah did was good also. Like many problems though, this one has many angles. I'm glad that you pointed out how students and parents are to blame also. It's too easy to attack the teachers. Education in America is a joke; does that not stem from the teachings of parents? What is the media portraying to be important. The media tells America day in and day out, the easiest way to make a lot of money is to become famous. Why aspire to be a doctor or lawyer when one can make ten fold those salaries just by singing "oops I did it again"?

I had the pleasure of viewing one of Mr. McNamar's "freshman" classes; I have to ask, where in the world do these kids come from. Daily tasks such as a double-entry journal are unknowns to some of the students: Did I mention the year is almost over?

The meaning of "getting a good education" is becoming extinct. Blaming teachers is going to fix that? Talk about bad politics.

I'm lucky, my parents and grandparents have taught me that education is important. Not all of my peers share that luxury. So, with no one to guide them, who do they turn to? If I didn't know any better, I'd look at the people who have become successfull: What did they do to become so wealthy?

I believe a teacher's job is to help the kids that want to do well. If the "want" isn't there, then the problem is flipped to the parents. I don't see how a teacher who has helped inspire my future plans can be blamed for a bunch of kids who can't figure out how to do an assignment after three quarters of the school year is complete.

If this problem is going to be solved, new morals and social standards will need to be implemented. Revitalize the competition of being "best in class", not the competition for who can skip the most. Instead of paying for your child to play in 3 "select" programs, pay for a tutor or college prep course.

Once again, America has proven that it cannot solve even the most basic of problems. Once again, America has dug itself a hole which will take years to resurface from.

It's going to take people like McNamar to help fix this. Teachers, do not let this problem be bestowed upon you, that is unjust. You're the brains and intellectuals of our nation, do not be blamed for being stupid and incompetent. Who are you to be blamed?

At 1:21 PM , Blogger graycie said...

"One student told me that 'I just didn't feel like doing it.' " This from Snohomish County, Washington -- but I swear that I often hear the same response from students here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It's nation-wide, and if they don't show up and/or don't do what we ask, They. Will. Not. Learn. and it isn't our fault.

Excellent post --


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