Fourth Generation Teacher: My Letter to Bill Gates — details to follow…

Dear Bill Gates:

You and I took very different paths to where we are now. You chose to drop out of college (I hear that hasn’t hurt your success any); I chose to follow my father and grandfather into teaching (bachelor’s degree, Reading Specialist, hours past my masters, National Board Certification, renewed until 2020). I have earned awards from my peers and from the state of Oklahoma. I have had the honor of teaching thousands of young people. I have had a very successful career, also. but even though I’m the career educator, YOU’RE the one affecting policies that directly affect the way I do my job.

Without any research, you dabble and try this idea and that. What do you use for credibility? Your bankbook.

Using extensive educational research on how students learn and how to help them learn more, I invented an English elective, Reading for Pleasure. Don’t, as other critics do, assume this is a blow-off class. It’s grounded in educational research on reading and writing. It affects lives. It raises test scores, it inspires students to read long after they’ve left high school. It creates life-long readers and role models for children.  All in one semester. Because I know how to teach, how to respond, how to do my job. What have I used as credibility? Two education degrees, National Board Certification, and 39 years of experience — all of which you discount as important for my job.

Because of you and your reform ideas, states around the country, including my own, have moved toward more high stakes testing, high stakes for students and for teachers. We have had to cut back on electives that we KNOW help students become productive adults, so we can put them in classes that will raise our school’s state grade. We have been forced to turn students into tools – widgets — for our own survival.

My class, ten years of documented success, will dwindle to nothing so students can take more AP classes…because AP enrollment raises OUR school grade. My class, ten years of documented success will die as my former school focuses more and more on test scores, school scores, in a desperate attempt to game the new system and the system after that. No longer is school a place for students to discover who they are, and what they love. Now, because of your reform ideas, school is a constant pursuit of test scores. The joy and love and passion is draining out of every classroom. I hold you and your money partially responsible.

Your ‘reforms’ have killed my class. Common Core will hammer the last nail into the coffin of true student-centered learning and teaching. No longer will students be allowed, as they were in my class, to choose what to read, to read for their own reasons, to write reflectively (David Coleman, also with no teaching experience, has decided Readers Response, a time-honored tool for helping students reflect about what they’ve read, is of no value), to become part of a reading community for the first time in their lives. No longer will students discover they ARE good readers, they CAN comprehend. They DO have good ideas.

So, you, the non-educator, have deeply affected me, the educator and all my students. You have helped destroy a class that truly allowed and demanded students find their passions, their gifts, their way in the world.

I would never assume I knew how to do your job. I understand there are intricacies and procedures that are vital to your success.

I would never dream of coming into your workplace, elbow you out of the way, and take over. But you and your money and your success have done just that in MY job.

You have helped destroy my legacy.

Claudia Swisher

Fourth Generation Teacher:  My Letter to Bill Gates — details to follow


About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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2 Responses to Fourth Generation Teacher: My Letter to Bill Gates — details to follow…

  1. Nancy Erdvig says:

    Great letter, Claudia. I see my teaching career reflected in your letter. As I did a major summer cleaning of my classroom today, I was saddened as I purged all of the wonderful lessons, curriculum, teacher workshops, and grants I wrote and delivered over the past 25 years.

    Now, most electives are gone. Learning is scripted and boring. Every decision is made based upon the school grade. Non-educators have killed education. I love teaching but cannot wait until I can retire and get out. I keep praying for the return of educational policy that allows teachers to have the freedom to implement what really works for students. Then I will not have to leave the public school children and profession I love.

  2. Pingback: Our Top 10 from 2013, but Bill Gates is Still Not Making Nice with Teachers | Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates

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