An Open Letter to Diane Ravitch

Dear Mrs. Ravitch,

I love your story. From your work deep in the bowels of conservative (i.e. Republican) education policy, to outspoken critic of current moves to privatize education and restore the national mandate of quality public education for all. I wish you had more time to write about the moral awakening which that was for you. [Note: if you have written about it, I haven’t read it yet.]

I’m subscribed to your blog, but I’m also a new teacher, and so I don’t have time to absorb the 5+ posts that you make each day. Don’t get me wrong, it is quality content, timely, and insightful, but it is also a little inflammatory and a few days ago I was a little insulted.

To be fair it wasn’t words which you had written the words were written by an Art Teacher in New York Public. I read the post and was struck by the bitter tone, and the animosity which this person had to new teachers. I took offense at the new teacher comments since I, too am a new teacher, and am probably replacing someone who has retired. I took offense at the animosity which I read and which probably exists between more experienced teachers and newer teachers.

And then I took a step back. The profession that is education is in a sorry state. I have not been in it very long, but I would go so far as to say that it is downright dysfunctional. Even for the most successful and adventurous teachers, it is still in many ways a trial.

How did we get here? I got here because I am heeding a call to help prepare kids to be more successful in STEM. But I am inheriting a profession that is broken. I could point fingers or take ideological high ground, but I am going to blame anyone who has between 15 and 30 years of experience in this profession. This is their legacy. If the TFA recruit is a mercenary, then let those with tenure and experience lead the charge to take back the public mind on what educators can and should be.

When I read about the problems—which are manifold—and the forces arrayed against free and universal public education, my courage flags. My optimism and idealism that have propelled me thus far are only so robust. Another letter you quoted talked about “charity fatigue”, and I think I will get that much faster if I keep reading your blog. So I will still be subscribed but I don’t have the time or energy or emotional resources to keep reading.

Sincerely,

John Weisenfeld

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Comments

  • Fawn Nguyen  On November 30, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Hi John. I’ve spent the last 20 years in the classroom, and I don’t see my profession or our educational system itself as dysfunctional. We’re far from perfect, but I want to believe that there are caring people who walk the walk in education. I think ALL teachers, new and experienced, are valuable if they are competent and love their craft and their students.

    I too sensed the animosity toward new teachers from the art teacher’s letter. But she’s speaking out of resentment from what was done to her. We humans tend to cast a wide net of blame when we’re upset.

    The difference that I can make each and every day happens in my classroom. I truly want to believe that whatever comes down the pike from admin or from reform has to go through me first before it gets to my kids. I get to be the last filter.

    Thank you, John.

  • John Weisenfeld  On November 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Hi Fawn,

    You are very kind to be reading my blog, and I’m always encouraged when you comment, since I love what the #MTBoS has accomplished as far as a distributed community of encouragement.

    You are good to call me on my dysfunctional comment. I need to back that up with observations which may or may not be what others have experienced.

    I like your qualifications of education professionals:
    . caring people
    . walk the walk (do what they say, constant improvement)
    . competent
    . love their craft
    . love their students

    I aspire to all those things! And I am sure the Art Teacher still aspires to those things, but has to also speak the truth from her experiences.

    I am taking your advice to heart, to be the guardian of my classroom from all threats both real and imagined.

    Keep up the great work!
    John

  • Jen  On January 2, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    John,
    I did sense a bit a bitterness and experienced the same when I was a newer teacher. I have now been teaching for 10 years and still consider my self new, even though at my school only 7 teachers have seniority over me at this point, we have about 90 on staff. In my teaching carrier there has obviously been a high turnover rate with many retiring, leaving the professions, or moving districts (ok, one amazing teacher did pass away, this was heartbreaking… one other left to go to another school in the district after earning her Master’s)…. and I am continually weighing: stay teaching kids who are amazing with a program I have built or leave all the administrative/ political craziness behind? I have seen several first, second and third year teachers leave the profession because of the latter. Not because they were weak or didn’t have the ‘qualifications of educational professionals’…. but because for them and their families it just didn’t financially balance out. That is what I really think she was referring to… the financial/ emotional balance. Teachers are increasingly being paid less and less….and every year being asked and expected to do more and more…. and we take it. Funny thing, when standing up to admin, we are told, “Didn’t you expect this when you signed up for the job?” What many people do not realize, especially lawmakers, teaching is not a 8 hour a day job… you know that. We are thinking about our lessons, or kids, what will help so an so master this concept better…. we are reading and writing blogs…. we as teacher are dedicated to the point of insanity… and is the balance worth it? Will the requirement of insane dedication be worth it for the up coming generation? That is more what I think she may have been trying to say, or at least how I interpreted it. For some yes. I am excited about the amazing ones on their way….. I just hope that the system will treat with with the respect they deserve so we may keep them in the classrooms…. that is my concern.

    And by the way- by the looks of your blog- you are amazing and energetic and exciting minds in your classroom! Way to go! Bottle that energy…..

    • John Weisenfeld  On January 11, 2014 at 6:18 am

      Jen,

      Thanks for the thoughtful and earnest reply! I have been thinking about your wisdom and really resonate with your 10-year-veteran-but-novice sentiment. We are always learning, either by nature or by necessity–another intangible perk of the profession!

      You mention the turnover rate, which I have also heard is staggering. I don’t think either side of the education wars disputes that, which in itself is a refreshing change of pace. Furthermore I’ve added this bad attrition rate to my mental list of “Top 10 Dysfunction Aspects of the Teaching Profession.”

      I don’t think finances is the main reason for this attrition, but I agree that it is a big factor. It is also on my top-10 list.

      The way that the idealism of teachers is taken advantage of is, I think, a long-standing abuse. I could imagine that some day soon teachers will be asked to negotiate seriously on summer vacations “for the sake of the kids”. The implication being: “you didn’t go into this job merely for summers off, did you?”

      Finally, I have this idea that keeps coming back to me. If teachers looked at summer as a mass opportunity to “improve the profession”, by lobbying representatives, school boards, administrators, union folks, parents, community members, to support teachers as professionals, pay them reasonably, and start dismantling these dysfunctional aspects, wouldn’t the rank-and-file teachers become an incredible force? Would it be selfish to take some serious chunk of summer R&R time to not worry primarily about improving the kids’ experiences but focus on improving the very nature of the profession? Isn’t that what we tell the kids, that they have amazing untapped potential to craft their own destinies? Do we believe or practice what we preach?

      My final question to the woman in the letter that Ravitch quotes. “You worked so hard to improve kids lives, what about the ‘kids’ that were to become teachers and take your professional place, what did you do for THEM?”

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