Wednesday, February 8, 2017

An Open Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Betsy DeVos,

     Yesterday, in a tie-breaking vote, history was made as you were elected the United States Secretary of Education. I guess that means congratulations are in order. And seeing as you're a fellow woman I guess I'm supposed to be even more pumped about you having such an influential part in the leadership of our country. You see, a few weeks ago thousands of women marched in an attempt to give our gender more equality, more power. And here you are today. Holding more power than I think you fully understand in your hands. Yay for the home team right?

     Except here's the thing, Mrs. DeVos. Apart from being a woman, you and I have very little else in common. At least we did until yesterday. Now our worlds seemed to have collided in a big way. You see, as you sat at the capital yesterday in your tailor-made suit preparing to make history, I sat cross-cross apple sauce in a Title 1 school, in clearance rack Old Navy pants, preparing to make the future. I'm a public school first grade teacher and yesterday, in a way, you apparently became my boss.

     All of that being said, I felt like maybe I should tell you a little bit about myself and my job. It seems you don't fully understand what it means to be a public school teacher, and that's okay as I don't fully understand what it means to be a political figure. It's just that, with your new title, I feel it might be beneficial to at least have some idea of who and what you're representing.

     I graduated magna cum laude  from a four-year university with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. I have to be "highly qualified" to get a job as a teacher and my college degree was just the start. I attend countless trainings and professional development courses each year to stay up to date in my field and keep my "highly qualified" status. Many of these trainings occur in the summer, on my time off, and happen without extra compensation. I also get observed and evaluated multiple times a year by my administration. Occasionally, during accreditation years, I get observed and evaluated by other really official people. Did you know that public schools go through accreditation processes? You know, to make sure we're still doing a good enough job.

     Remember those clearance rack Old Navy pants I mentioned earlier? I'd love to say I wear those to work every week because I'm a really good budgetor who just loves a good deal. But the truth of the matter is, my miniscual paycheck doesn't have room for tailor-made suits no matter how hard I try to stretch each penny. You see, my husband is also a public school teacher, which here in NC is like a death nail on financial prosperity. I, fortunately, got an education scholarship to go to college and get "highly qualified" but NC has since done away with that education scholarship program. So, like many of my other public school educator friends, student loans are another bill we must cover with that teeny tiny paycheck we receive each month.

     My personal paycheck isn't the only thing getting slighted each year. The funding public schools receive each year continues to plummet. Positions are cut constantly and resources aren't updated the way they need to be. You know what's not decreasing though Mrs. DeVos? The amount of children that still need to go to school. So while Art, Music, and PE programs are being cut and teacher assistant positions are disappearing, class sizes are growing. Have you ever tried to teach 25 Kindergartners how to read by yourself Mrs. DeVos? I watch my friends do it daily. And surprisingly enough, Mrs. DeVos, they're successful a lot of the time.

     But Mrs. DeVos, the things I want you to know about me and my job don't have anything to do with the trainings I attend or the money I receive. It has to do with the one and only reason I continue to do what I do each day. The kids. I'm not quite sure when public education become synonymous with bad education but from where I stand, which is a pretty relevant place, it's just not true.

     Remember how I mentioned teaching at a Title 1 school? As part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA - acronyms are BIG in education, you should start studying up) "schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families" receive financial assistance to help "ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards." Its kind of a sweet deal except when even that additional funding continues to decrease (see above). It also means that a lot of my students need more during their school day than just ABCs and 123s. Food to fill their bellies, warm clothes, hugs and encouragement that they may or may not be getting at home. Parents in my community are working multiple jobs with crazy hours just to pay the bills. Children in my school community are worrying about responsibilities that go far beyond reading and writing. As their teacher, it's my job to help ease that burden in anyway I can. Even when, at times, it means veering away from the curriculum I'm required to teach, the one I'm observed on in order to keep my job. Or if it means using my own money to purchase something for my classroom. Because remember how heavy my pockets are?

     Are you beginning to see the double edged sword we public educators deal with each day, Mrs. DeVos? Am I painting a clear enough picture of how interconnected each issue is?

     I've wanted to be a teacher my whole life (except for that short time in middle school when I was convinced I could host my own interior design TV show) and during that time I've had to defend why. Why would you want to teach? You could be anything you want to be - why settle? There's so many other jobs where you could make more money. You want to know what I'm tired of doing, Mrs. DeVos? I'm tired of defending my job. My job that creates all the other jobs. My job that requires me to sacrifice time with my own daughter to help nurture and love other sons and daughters. My job that often keeps me up at night. My job that is constantly devalued and underestimated. My job that I continue to show up for, day in and day out.

     Mrs. DeVos, you made history yesterday and are trending all over social media. You are in a very opportune position to either a) continue this false rhetoric that public schools are failing our children or b) put your support behind the thousands of public educators who are fighting on the front lines for our children.

     My job is hard Mrs. DeVos, as I'm sure your's is too. But my job is needed. My job is important. And my job means the world to me.

     I would love to give you my support, Mrs. DeVos. In fact, I'm pretty easily swayed. And my request to you is a simple one. Change the story on public education. Throw your support behind me and my fellow educators. I promise you once that's done, you'll have the biggest group of cheerleaders you could imagine.

     Until then I'll be hanging out in Room 307, with some of the best first graders I know.


A proud public educator