A teacher’s appeal to Melinda Gates…
I’ve decided to go against the grain here and write to you instead of Bill, in the hopes that, as a woman and more importantly as a mother, you will hear what I’m saying and will do something about it before it really is too late.
The damage that I have witnessed in Boston over the past decade is alarming. YOUR ED REFORM IS HURTING CHILDREN. As a mother yourself, are you prepared to ignore this message that I and many other public schoolteachers are so desperately trying to convey to you and to those who have become the sole decision makers of public education?
It’s clear that an underlying presumption made about us (teachers) is that we are objecting to your “reform” measures because we don’t want to be held accountable for what we do in our classrooms. This notion is the polar opposite of our reality.
In 1998, when I was about to graduate with my Master’s Degree from Wheelock College, I presented my thesis to a panel of educators as part of the final step in determining my eligibility for this degree. My thesis was, simply, my philosophy on education: every child can learn. I nervously stood in front of this handful of well-established and well-respected educators and education experts from the field and spent 40 minutes defending my stance, convincing them that I had successfully acquired the ability to teach any and every kind of learner who may come my way. They challenged me by presenting scenarios that I could someday possibly face. I responded accordingly and proved to them that I had been sufficiently educated to meet the needs of children with every possible learning style by adapting and modifying my craft, and by relying on proven educational theories such as Bloom’s Taxonomy. In my 30+ page portfolio, I supported my statements with tangible evidence of lessons and activities I’d created that were designed to address every learning style.
My Philosophy wasn’t just something I’d written for the purpose of this final step in my Master’s program. My Philosophy was something I truly and wholeheartedly believed in, and it was the driving force behind my teaching from the very first day I set foot in front of my own classroom a decade and a half ago. Most importantly, My Philosophy was based – more than anything else – on my own accountability as a teacher. I was constantly self-evaluating and self-assessing. If a particular method wasn’t working for one or more of my students when presenting a new concept, I’d try something else. If that didn’t work, I’d try something else. Some concepts would require five to six completely different methodologies before a child grasped the material. Sometimes things took longer than expected or other things would have to be put to the side while I searched for ways to effectively reach every student. And I did. I did because the single most important motivation I had as a teacher was ensuring each student’s ultimate success.
In 2000, I had an unforgettable student named Tishawna in my Resource Room. She was (and has since proven to be) the most challenging student I’ve ever encountered, in terms of her ability to learn and retain material. Tishawna was the most eager, motivated, and endearing 2nd grader, and while she came from a poverty-riddled neighborhood in Boston, she was one of the few students whose mother did value education. She read to her children, attended parent conferences and IEP meetings, and cared about her oldest daughter’s academic achievement. Unfortunately, this was not enough. Tishawna had the most unusual and severe learning disability I had encountered, and psychological testing indicated an IQ that fell solidly in the mental retardation (MR) range.
I knew that Tishawna was grossly misplaced in Resource Room. I knew she needed a more restrictive setting where her needs would be better met. But until that happened, I was her teacher. And MR or not, illiterate or not, while she was my student it was my job to do whatever it took to find a way to reach her. After months and months of trial and error, and hours spent researching possible methods to use with her, she finally had a breakthrough. When the light bulb finally went off that cold January day and when, for the first time in her eight years she was finally able to read a word, then a sentence, then a passage, this scrawny little girl with her thick eyeglasses looked at me with tears of joy steaming down her face. She threw her bony arms around my neck as if I’d just given her the very best present she ever could have ever hoped for. In hindsight, maybe I had.
Once Tishawna finally “got it”, there was no stopping her. Between January and June, she made almost TWO AND A HALF YEARS of gains in her reading skills, formal assessments showed. It was truly amazing. Like I had surely done for her, she provided me with a confidence in my teaching abilities that I had not yet realized within myself. She gave me enough intrinsic motivation to last a lifetime. Or so I thought. While it’s unlikely that people whose careers have been driven by externally motivating factors can fathom the reality of this, INTRINSIC MOTIVATION IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR that calls teachers into the field. At least it is for teachers like myself, who don’t need the promise of incentives like tuition reimbursement, a free Master’s degree, a guaranteed job for a guaranteed number of years, or excessive praise and adulation for their missionary-type work. I wish you would understand that instead of perpetuating the popular opinion that paints the picture of teachers as being selfish, lazy, greedy, and unaccountable “un”-professionals. Because that’s just wrong.
Teachers want to be held accountable for ensuring academic growth and success in every student because THAT IS EXACTLY WHY WE ARE TEACHERS.
Do you want to know why so many teachers are leaving the field in droves these days, Melinda? Most have been in the classroom since before and at the onset of the toxic No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Do you care that the majority of them are also indisputably some of the best teachers in the nation?
I’ll tell you why, and I really hope you do the right thing for our country’s children. Teachers are leaving because YOUR ED REFORM IS HARMING CHILDREN, and they can’t, in good conscience, be part of perpetuating that harm every day. Not only that, but you have effectively removed any and all intrinsic motivation from our classrooms by telling us not just what to teach, but exactly WHEN to teach it (often down to the very day, or dictating the very NUMBER OF MINUTES we’re allowed to spend on it), and worst of all, by telling us HOW TO TEACH IT. Regardless of whether or not it’s the right, or even a good, way to teach it. Regardless of whether, by following orders, we’re affording only a fraction of our students THE RIGHT TO LEARN it!
Melinda, while I’m on the topic, can I ask the question that makes the least sense of all in this illogical world you’ve created? WHAT MAKES YOU LEADERS OF ED REFORM THINK YOU’RE THE EXPERTS, THAT YOU KNOW BEST?
I would not have been able to teach Tishawna like I had if she were in my class in 2010 rather than in 2000. I have no doubt that Tishawna would not have been able to LEARN if she were in my 2010 class. Why? Because ED REFORM IS HARMING CHILDREN and you wouldn’t have “let” me. We know that what we’re currently doing, and how we’re doing it isn’t working. We KNOW that these children will continue to FAIL if we continue to be so negligently bound by the conditions that you force us into, lest risk being punished somehow. But that remains secondary to the main problem your “solutions” have created…that YOUR ED REFORM IS HARMING CHILDREN.
WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING, MELINDA? YOU ARE HARMING CHILDREN. Sleep on that. Sooner or later, you’ll have no choice but to realize the truth of my words.
I was one of the aforementioned teachers who had no choice but to realize the truth in knowing that I was harming children by complying with your ridiculous rules and mandates. That fact ate away at me for the past 2 years, and I’ve had too many sleepless nights trying to ignore the toll that it was taking on my psychological well-being and on every other part of my life. This past spring the reason for my own personal compliance – the fact that I am a single mother of 3 little boys living paycheck to paycheck and thus needed to continue to report to school regardless of what I was forced to do when I got there – stopped being enough to keep me going back each day. I resigned.
You and your ed reform have left me faced with a very unstable and worrisome future, especially in terms of my financial security. Having been denied UI (because I “resigned”), I’ve been living on my retirement. Hopefully my appeal will be granted, but even if it’s not, I stand by my decision. Being able to sleep at night far outweighs any financial incentive, even stability. I will make it somehow. I haven’t a clue how and I’m hoping for a lottery win because I fear my options are limited, but I have no regrets about the choice I made.
Because I long to someday remember what it feels like to “teach” again, and especially because I have three little boys who are just starting out on their public educational paths, I have committed myself to doing whatever I can to help stop this insanity you’ve created. Like so many other teachers, since resigning I have spent my “working” hours blogging (theindignantteacher.wordpress.com), creating and maintaining a Facebook grassroots organization, and testifying before the Massachusetts Joint Ed Committee at the State House regarding Ed Reform bills.
It doesn’t matter that my efforts thus far have been in vain. It doesn’t matter that I’m doing it for free. Melinda, do you really believe that if I was really this selfish, lazy, greedy, and unaccountable “un”-professional in your “picture”, I’d spend HOURS DOING THESE THINGS? Of course I wouldn’t! Nor would the growing number of teachers who have now been called OUT of the classroom just as strongly as they’d once been called INTO it.
Are you listening YET, Melinda? YOUR ED REFORM IS HARMING CHILDREN!
I’d still be teaching if that weren’t true and I would gladly go before anyone who argues differently and debates the reality of that assertion, just as I would gladly open my classroom door to any AUTHENTIC and FAIR evaluation and accountability determination.
Let me go back to the classroom and show you and the rest of your reformers exactly that. Let me go back into the classroom and TEACH. Let me make a positive impact on the lives of my students, Melinda. Please. It’s what I was put here to do and it’s what I can do well. But it’s up to YOU to do what it takes to let me, and it starts with reforming this reform. Please read my blog, Melinda. 15 minutes of your life is, I think, a fair trade off for what you have done to mine, The Indignant Teacher, and to millions of others.
Then please read the blogs of others like myself. Ask yourself why you are so resistant to listen to our message that ED REFORM IS HARMING OUR CHILDREN. You’re a mother like me, Melinda. You know what it’s like to have your heart walking around outside your body, like me and like the mothers of most children harmed by child ED REFORM. Surely the day will eventually come when you do what is right and get your husband (at least) to STOP.
Have some faith in America’s public schoolteachers. Let us tell you where to put the money. Let us do what we have dedicated our lives doing. Let us teach, Melinda, and watch what happens. Or go before the country and explain what right you have NOT to.
Sincerely and in good faith and hope,
Jill O’Malley Conroy
Boston Public Schools 9/1/1998 – 4/1/2013
Graduate of Boston Latin School, 1991
BA, Sociology, UMass/Amherst, 1995
MS, Special Education, Wheelock College, 1998
MA State Certification, Special Ed (preK-9), Elementary Ed (1-6)