Dear Arne Duncan,
I’m an educator. And I’m having a helluva time these days. I spent my years in the public sector of education. I pursued my terminal degree in the name of the student (trust me, i’m not getting rich, in fact, can we also talk about the student loan program too?), and I’m drowning. I’m not alone and I think it’s time for you and your colleagues in Washington to ante up and start listening. Another standardized test isn’t listening, it’s crap. I believe that every child can learn. I respect you, the President, and education, but I’m having a helluva time slapping on my smile every day. Let me elaborate:
I feel uncertain for a variety of reasons these days. I think my 30’s have me coming to terms with the fact that I am disposable. No, this is not a self-deprecating post at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As we look at the changes in the economy, the diminishing funding for higher education and education as a whole, and then pair that with the fact that many of my readers have invested their passion, their love, and their careers in educating students and investing in our youth, it’s hard not to feel disposable. This also adds onto the fact that our parents don’t teach their children to respect education and our public school teachers are coming under increasing pressure to “do it all” from educate to teach manners, respect, discipline, and in some cases–all out combat, to ‘do their jobs’ each day. It’s truly becoming exhausting for all of us.
To play my own devil’s advocate, perhaps we had become too comfortable. Perhaps a little stress is good. A little uncertainty keeps us on our toes and striving for greatness (if you will) in many cases. But lately, it’s gone past stress for productivity and seems more and more like we’re all first year teachers in “survival” mode every day. It’s not rewarding, it’s soul sucking. The “teachable moments” are becoming farther and fewer in between, and some of the joy has been sucked out. We don’t support education or its’ educators anymore. We don’t mentor young teachers, we give them more work, we give them more bubble sheets, we give them no respect. Higher ed is pushing for massive numbers of students but getting rid of faculty to teach, conduct research, and simply saying “teach more, advise more students, we’re building more dorms, and while you’re at it, get us a grant so we can take over half of it back in overhead.” I know they don’t say it like that, but they say it. My campus is pushing to add 10,000 more students over the next five years and they’re proud they’ve decreased the number of TT track faculty by 40% as a result. Adjuncts (who do the ultimate work) will fill those roles with no certain futures and will fly by the seat of their pants each semester based on enrollment. Don’t you want all faculty from TT to adjunct to worry about great teaching instead of the next grant, the next paycheck, or if they’ll get fired because their sections aren’t filled to capacity?
To sum it up: this is intolerable. We need an educated workforce to do the 21st century jobs but no one wants to pay or can afford to train them. Employers don’t have the manpower or infrastructure to train all of their own employees and they simply don’t want too. Universities are losing ground and funding quickly, competition for grants is increasing ten fold, and each election season brings more stress and anxiety as a result. Public education (pre-k-12) has become a massive sinkhole and our students, our children, our future–are paying the price. We have great teachers in those buildings but they are ruled by tests, SOL’s, and bubble sheets. They no longer teach, they test. They no longer inspire, they memorize. They no longer have passion, their retention is down from seven years to five years at most before our system burns them out and they look elsewhere for work. I’m one of those burn outs. I cared so much that I exhausted myself in five years. I sacrificed my marriage because of my passion and I paid the ultimate price. It was my choice, but the notion that I had to give every last drop I had did not just come from my innate sense of love for students, it came from my students’ parents, my administrators, and the standards that your office and my state government sent to my school.
I challenge you today, to start thinking about education in our country differently. You claim to see it every day. You say you have your hand on the pulse. You claim that job skills are important but there has been nothing done to educate our students on how to handle themselves professionally. Schools are giving out “top bubble sheet” awards. Arne Duncan, if you ever read this post, call me, email me. Send me a fb message. Pull out your big data and let’s talk. I promise I can hang with the lingo. I do “big data” and I’ll tell you that the majority of our profession (including your office) doesn’t look at big data the way its’ meant to be read. Let’s talk students. I’ve taught the “rich kids” and the kids whose parents won’t buy their kid glasses because they’re too much money. Let’s talk workforce. Let’s talk CTE and the arts. I love them both. A child should be educated holistically to learn that each subject area compliments another and they’re not separate entities. Let’s stop racing to the top. It’s setting our kids and teachers up for failure. Education is not a race, it’s a marathon. You should know that. I know my colleagues and I do.
Let’s hang Arne. I’ll buy the coffee.