I interrupt the (ir)regulary scheduled posts about teen pregnancy, grief, maternal mortality, adolescence, and the like to throw my two cents in about the proposed U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Read at your own risk, keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle, and feel free to buy the $50 picture of your face screaming as we all barrel down this mountain of baloney.
I have an earth shattering revelation. Teaching is hard. I know, I know, I better have data to back that statement up. I do, but I’ll mostly be sharing anecdotal data in this rambling. Please note that this statement does not say, “Teaching is hard, and all other professions are easy.” Every vocation has its difficulties, and hopefully any career person does find their work to be a challenge. However, teaching is one profession that has the absolute power in affecting our nation for generations. Full disclosure—I am a teacher. Fuller disclosure, there are moments in almost every day that I can name off 15 jobs that would be easier. Luckily, just when I want to run screaming from the building, a light bulb of understanding finally goes off in a student’s mind, or a student says something hilarious, and I settle back into my peace of knowing that the long days, dark circles, and bursting e-mail inbox MATTER!
I am not that pristine teacher you see in social media memes smiling at an impeccably orderly room full of children sitting in rows with pencils in hands eagerly awaiting the knowledge that is about to leave the teacher’s mouth and appear into their brains. Instead, I’m the teacher whose desk is a perpetual pile of papers, books, Diet Coke cans, water bottles, paperwork, half-eaten lunch cartons. My students are sometimes lying across the table with their iPads giggling at fart noises. Sometimes I’m at the front of the room getting more dry erase marker on my hands and clothes than the board. Often I am sitting at a table with a student and occasionally banging my head against said table trying to understand how a child has reached the age of 12 and still does not know that the holes on notebook paper go to the left. My classroom is chaotic. I have 50 minutes each day to teach, assess, reteach, reassess, remediate, extend, record data, and build relationships with the ever-changing pre-teens that make my classroom come alive each day. If you haven’t been a teacher, I know this sounds easy and you think I need to get my act together. True that, but those of you who have had the privilege of being an educator are laughing and saying, “Amen.”
I have taught in two schools during my teaching career. As my bleeding heart usually dictates my path, in both positions, I have served children who benefit from federal funding. Title I and IDEA funds, while seemingly never enough, have helped to ensure that these beloved babies of mine have a chance at getting a fair shot at life. I don’t ask for much as a teacher. But, I do find that my impossible job seems a bit more realistic when those who lead my school, system, and policy understand where my students and I are coming from.
In my family, we often use baseball analogies to describe society. We all agree that we want everyone to reach home plate, but we often neglect the notion that there are those that start life on third base. We rarely acknowledge that there are some people who are still home in bed and have no idea where the baseball park is. Today, it hit me that we have some people who are playing baseball in an overgrown pasture with a pinecone and stick, while others are playing in the most advanced MLB stadium with aerodynamic bats and electronic balls. (I don’t know if those exist. I am more of a football fan.) It seems that the person slated to govern those babies- who don’t even know where the cow pasture, makeshift field is, is sitting on home plate at the new SunTrust stadium in Cobb County. This terrifies me as a teacher, and breaks my heart as a citizen who believes that public education is paramount to our democracy. I do not know Betsy DeVos. I like the way her last name sounds. She seems nice. I love George Strait. His crooked grin and cowboy hat are what my dreams are made of, but I wouldn’t want him to perform brain surgery on me. I would like to explain just a few points from her Senate hearing that make my heart hear Enya songs the loudest.
- Proficiency vs. Growth
With students in poverty and students with disabilities, these are the kiddos that are either playing baseball with sticks and pinecones, or trying to get to the pasture to play with them. The lower levels Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs must be met before one can reach the Self-Actualization tier. Many of them have the potential to find their way from the pasture to SunTrust stadium, but it takes a heck of a lot of work on their end and their teachers to get them there. Although the government might not agree, there’s no greater feeling than a kid sliding into a first base marked with somebody’s shoe when they started off 5 miles down the road from the pasture! Crawling leads to baby steps, which leads to running.
- IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities ]Education Act)
Hear me out, I could wallpaper the Taj Mahal with all of the paperwork in continuously file to prove that my state uses the federal funds for their intended purpose. You know what? I’m happy to do it. It doesn’t “even the playing field,” but it does at least give children a rudimentary map to the pasture. As a child who was in visually impaired classes, I am really thankful that it wasn’t left to the state to decide if I was worthy of an education or not. Furthermore, this legislation is a HUGE piece of American policy that is cited time and time again. It has been a springboard for many other pieces of legislation that help ensure domestic tranquility for all. I’m embarrassed for her that she didn’t really understand what it was. Kudos to Senator Hassan, whose son has Cerebral Palsy for not coming over her desk like a Grizzly bear. (Sorry, had to!)
- Sexual Assault on College Campuses
For six years, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has worked diligently to outline parameters and enact procedures that safeguard students from sexual assault. Seems pretty legit to me. One should be able to feel safe while working to further their education. If the unthinkable happens, students should feel confident that the government will take quick action in his or her defense. Mrs. DeVos however, could not say definitively that she would uphold the progress that has been made in this area. I will just leave it there, because I just can’t…
- Financial Aid
I admit, anything with word financial in it confuses me from the start. I don’t really get all of the bureaucracy involved either. However, I am not slated to be United States Secretary of Education. Her ignorance in this matter points back to the fact that her life experiences are the antithesis of the vast majority of Americans.
I will stop there. School choice and charter schools still haunt my dreams. I can’t even go there. I will be the first to admit that our education system has evolved into a mess more layered than the papers on my desk. We have standards that are not based in brain development, and they are targeted toward students who have had the greatest chance for strong foundations in early literacy skills. We expect our teachers to personalize instruction, work long hours, be stand in parents, build background knowledge, be trained on new initiatives every few months, collect truckloads, data for every child, and smile throughout the entire day. We have the incredible opportunity to teach our children to use the incredible gift of technology to enhance their learning and to connect them with resources beyond our wildest imaginations. We also must teach them how to be good citizens in real life, as well as how to navigate the infinite virtual world with the highest of digital citizenship. It’s hard. It’s exciting. It’s real. It’s rewarding. We need a leader who has our back. We need a leader who believes in our children even more than we do.
My musings will likely never reach the eyes of the 100 men and women who will be charting the course for our 50 million public school students with their vote. My hope is that it reaches a few hearts, who can let their voices be heard as constituents and stakeholders in our schools across the land.
How blessed are Mrs. DeVos and I both to have been born in SunTrust Park?
More than meat loves salt,