An Open Letter to Betsy DeVos
Dear Secretary DeVos,
Welcome to the Department of Education. I hear that this is your first job. Congratulations! It’s a little alarming that you have no experience whatsoever in public schools — or any kind of educational institute, for that matter — but, hey, everyone’s first job is never the one they’re going to make a career of, right?
As I’m sure you are aware, you have been selected by the United States Senate to head one of the most important and influential sectors of our government.
Every students deserves the chance to learn how to read, write, explore and manipulate numbers, regardless if they can pay for school. You talk a lot about school choice and providing scholarships and vouchers to students who may not be able to afford tuition to these fancy, religious private schools. I know you never went to a public education institute, so I’ll let you in on a little secret, just between us girls…
Students who go to public school don’t have to pay anything to go there.
How crazy is that?!
As I’m also sure you know, there’s a lot of diversity in our schools. We have students and families whose first language is not English; they speak Spanish and Ukrainian and Pashto and Arabic and Korean and Vietnamese and a multitude of other unique languages. We have students whose parent(s) doesn’t have a job or is never home, which means there is rarely food in the house. So, when we send them home for the weekend, we give them a backpack filled with granola bars and Easy Mac and applesauce and crackers so we at least know that they have something to eat between Friday and Monday. On every other day of the week, these students receive free breakfast and lunch from the school. (Because you know that kids can’t concentrate on their school work when they’re constantly hungry, right?) We have students who have unique leaning abilities, who may not have such an easy time learning the same things as their classmates. We have students whose needs are more severe and sometimes they need special services and supports in order for them to be successful in school.
Of course, in order to provide these services for our students, we need translators, occupational/physical/speech therapists, instructional specialists, and funds from Title I, all of which come from the federal government.
But you knew that already, right?
Am I also correct in assuming that you know what IDEA, IEP, PTO, SRO, ASB, Title IX, CCSS, NGSS, TPEP, SIOP, GLAD, ELL, ESL, SMP, ZPD, PLC, FAPE, and UDL stand for?
No? Well, then I guess you have some homework to do.
As much as others consider medicine, the law, or manufacturing to be a family business, teaching runs in my family. Both of my parents taught in public schools — my father a now-retired high school biology teacher, and my mother a middle school English teacher-turned administrator who is about to retire after almost forty years — so I spent a lot of extra time in schools over the years. On nearly a daily basis, I witnessed the positive impact my parents and their colleagues were having on their students. After much deliberation, I decided that education was also the pathway for me, that I would be fulfilling my life’s calling through this field. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned and confused when you said public schools were a “dead end”.
Right now, I’m at university getting my K-8 certification with an endorsement in mathematics. Over the last five years, I’ve spent almost 100 hours mentoring in middle school settings, helping students with math, language arts, and social studies. Over the last year alone, I’ve spent time observing and teaching mini-lessons in a fifth-grade classroom, taught an entire space science unit to a class of fourth-graders, worked one-on-one with a first grader as he was learning to read and spell, and held number talks with a group of first-graders as they learned to add two-digit numbers. I’m not even a certified teacher!
Yet you got this amazing job just by being a Republican and donating $9 million to the new president’s campaign? Wow! Maybe I should re-think this career…
As an educator, I work for you. But you also work for me. We work for each other. We’re going to collaborate. (Teachers do that a lot.) Our main job is to serve our students. That’s why we go into the field of education, to not only impart knowledge and wisdom onto the young minds of our country but also to support them whenever they are not able to receive supports outside school. We give students lunches for free. We have after-school programs for students whose parents work late, so they have a safe place to hang out and do their school work. We step in whenever we feel our students are in danger. Our students come first, every day of the year.
We are not ‘glorified baby-sitters’, a title that is outdated as it is inaccurate and insulting. We are mentors, coaches, nurses, parents, mathematicians, writers, readers, scientists, and critical thinkers.
Don’t mess with teachers. We know how to grade better than anyone else. Students can’t and don’t bribe their teachers to get the best grades. They work for it. They earn it. We set up benchmarks that we hope students meet by the end of the week, month, year. And if they don’t, that’s okay. If they make progress, that’s all we can ask. We are always looking for growth. Proficiency is the goal, of course, but growth is much more important. I know you had some trouble discussing this subject when being questioned by Senator Franken, so I’ll allow some time for your growth on the matter before you become proficient.
We teachers aim to set examples for our students, not only as learners but also as members of our community. We’re teaching our students how to be good people, who engage with the world.
Believe me, we are holding you to those standards as well. We expect you, at the highest level of our government, to be the top advocate for all of our students. Your job is to ensure that every student — no matter their background, financial situation, the language(s) they speak in and out of the classroom, the religion they practice, their learning needs — deserves a high-quality, inclusive education from Highly-Qualified (yes, Secretary DeVos, that capitalization is as intentional as it is a legitimate certification) educators. And, if not, if you choose wealth over the well-being of our students, you can expect resistance. From what I know, you are grossly unfit for this prestigious position. (Then again, looking at the rest of the administration…birds of a feather…) Our students do not deserve you. You do not deserve them.
And if you haven’t a single idea about anything I just said, then you have a lot of work to do. Every decision you make affects the children of this nation. Every. Single. Decision. You hurt them, and you hurt the future of this nation.
Best of luck on your first job!
(And, for the record, my elementary school was nestled up against a forest. On a few occasions, we had sightings of grizzly bears. We didn’t need guns at school to protect ourselves, though; we just stayed in at recess until the bear lumbered along its merry way. Guns don’t belong in schools, you nitwit.)