Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gates,
My genuine belief is that you both have the best of intentions. I believe you want education to improve. I believe you are convinced from your personal education experiences that what you propose changing in education will make a positive change. You have experienced immense success in your lives and want to pay it forward to future generations. So far, I’m concerned you’re spinning your wheels.
In Tennessee, I’ve changed from a profitable career in financial services to a personally fulfilling one in education. With insurance agency, the structure of my profession was clear. If a change to the profession became necessary, it was addressed by the profession. I have found in the process of changing careers that the “profession” of education is hardly treated like a profession at all.
My wife is a lawyer. In the legal profession, the local bar addresses matters of accountability. The law governs, and changes to it happen when many of the most knowledgeable members of the profession hand down a decision to be recorded in law. An acquaintance of mine in music is a doctor. He is bound by the ethics of his profession to treat his patient regardless of what anyone who is not a doctor says. Even in the smallest way, the teaching profession in no way resembles what I would consider the most fundamental standards of a profession.
You both could have some of the most absolute, world-changing reform ideas. Before those can even be credibly explored, should we not first address the importance of establishing a standard for this career path that raises it to even a mildly respectable level to be called “a profession?” And shouldn’t this begin with teachers, especially our most knowledgeable and experienced educators in every subject area and in each state? A number of teachers I know have unequivocally agreed with this notion of strengthening the profession. We, however, are not high-income earners. We lack the financial resources to take the risks necessary to organize our profession in such a way that grants us an absolutely vital voice in the public discourse of reforming education.
We need that voice, and I believe you both have the ability to help us rise to that occasion as reputable members of American society. And in my work experience, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was in restaurant management. My mentor, John, once told me, “Your best work happens when no one realizes you’ve done anything. When you’re a silent partner in another person’s success, that’s when you’re exceptional.” This is what I believe we need now as teachers. We need silent partners willing to invest in the infrastructure of our noble profession. Once a qualified board of educators exists, much like a state bar of lawyers, funded in equal parts by educators and states, our profession gains a foothold in the decisions that should be addressed by teachers first.
We need such a board to balance the scales in holding testing companies accountable – which they are currently held accountable to no one. We need such a board to balance the scales against political posturing at the highest levels of government so that teachers in fields like science are granted the autonomy to teach evolutionary theory alongside teachers of religious studies who can explore creation – because neither of these should be left to the whim of a politician attempting to earn votes in an election. We need such a board to help collaborate with well-meaning individuals like you, because in a professional environment, we can accomplish so much good on a much larger scale.
I urge you both to refocus your efforts in a more subtle, but much, much more significant way. Our profession has been all but lost in this latest effort to reform education. Your teachers are here, ready to nurture learning and creativity in the classroom. We need a voice, and with just the most subtle efforts on your part to lay the foundation for a professional board of educators, you may find it to be the most exceptional step you will ever take to bring about positive change in education since it became open to the public only a few decades ago. Please give this request your most earnest and thoughtful consideration.
TN Music Educator