The slogan from the Gates Foundation states “ALL LIVES HAVE EQUAL VALUE”.
We, at Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates would like you to think about your slogan as you read this letter from one of our readers Susan Hoenig Hansen, a fellow teacher, as she writes…
June 9, 2013
Dear Bill Gates and friends,
I will try to make this as brief as possible. I’ve been teaching for twenty four years in a low income school where 90% of the students are ELL (English Language Learners) and 89% Free Lunch. In addition, the majority of homes in our area are rental units where, for the sake of their finances, three families will share an apartment, one family in each bedroom. I have had students who lived in garages also.
When I heard about NCLB (No Child Left Behind) years ago and learned about the requirement that 100% of students would be proficient by 2014 (that’s in seven months), I was horrified to say the least. How could anyone who has ever worked with groups of children think that’s an attainable goal? Do all children walk at one year old? Do all children read at five years old? Can all adults run an eight minute mile?
My own children were younger then, and I immediately started comparing their experiences with those of my students. My sons were raised in a two parent home with parents who have no addictions, no violent ex boyfriends/spouses, two incomes and both college degrees, multiple teaching credentials, and one master’s degree. My sons have had a dream childhood, and they have done very well. They were taken to the zoo, the beach, trips to New York City, Washington D.C., New York state, Canada and Mexico. My husband and I provided Baby Play n Gro classes, swimming lessons, martial arts lessons, chess lessons, AYSO, etc. We also provided books, many books, along with trips to museums, and historical sites. We even took them to Coloma so they could actually see where gold was discovered. I’ll bet you and Melinda have provided many of the same experiences for your children.
My students, however, have few or none of these experiences. I will share just a few of their experiences here as I’m trying to show you some reasons why some students don’t do well no matter how great their teachers are or how many tests they take. Christy, early in my career. One morning I asked for homework and she started sobbing and telling me that her mother’s boyfriend had pushed the mom down the stairs while holding their baby, and then came back with a knife outside their window and threatened to kill them all. Second grade, homework excused. I have had parents tell me they can’t do two digit addition with regrouping to help their kids. Homework excused. Last year we had a student removed by Child Protective Services (far from my first) because her mother and the boyfriend were sexually abusing her together. Homework excused. I could go on and on, but I hope I’ve made a point here.
Very sadly, not all children are being raised in loving, supportive homes. Teachers, no matter how hard we try and how much we care, can not make up for what our students do not get at home. When standardized testing is used, it is comparing apples and oranges. It is not fair to the students or the teachers. I tell the teachers at my school that we are miracle workers because of what we DO accomplish, although no one will ever tell us that. Thankfully, I don’t teach because I look for glory, I teach because I care. And you know what? No test can measure that.
Susan Hoenig Hansen
BTW, we have no computer lab at our school as it was dismantled two years ago because none of the computers worked and there was no money to pay someone to run it. I wonder how our students will take the Common Core State Standards Test.
What do you think, Bill and Melinda? Does this school need more expensive tests? Can you measure what this teacher does for children?
Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates