An educator's letter to Obama 

click to enlarge Kate Rachwitz
  • Kate Rachwitz

Dear Mr. President,

My response to your "five pillars" of educational reform is the Educational Trinity: teachers, students and parents. Without all three, no one can succeed.

Nowhere in the trinity is there a call for more testing. Nowhere else does an individual face so many multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests. I lose effectively 3 weeks of time with my students because of standardized testing. Education is about human relationships; I hear it in every professional development program. Where is the human relationship in standardized tests? Where is the professionalism in not trusting the professional to tell you whether the student has succeeded or needs assistance?

Please recruit more teachers, but understand it's a calling, and that not just any ordinary "Joe" off the street can do what we do in the classroom. It takes a special breed. No amount of incentive can make me do more than I do now. No amount of extra money or "incentive" will motivate me to try harder. If it was about the money, I wouldn't have chosen education. Whoever told you it was about the money isn't a teacher, but likely a businessman saying education should be run like a business.

We don't get to pick and choose our clientele, we cannot refuse an education to anyone, we cannot pick the price, location or style; they are chosen for us when the student walks into the room.

Excellence in America's schools great, but not through charters. Charters get to pick and choose, leaving the at-risk in unsupported public schools. Of course the charters do well; they don't have to take the student whose first language isn't English, or has special needs ranging from dyslexia to physical handicaps. They don't have to take registered sexual offenders, gang members, students with a slight reading disability, or whose parents work multiple jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Public schools face so many obstacles, and government and everyone else continue giving them more. Every day I work with students who try, and I stay up until 2 a.m. grading their work and adding comments to help them succeed. I come up with new ways to share information and motivate them. Every day, in my overcrowded room, I also have students who don't care, and whose parents don't, either, or have given up. I am there, ready and willing to work, and they aren't. I offer my hand every day to pull them out of the hole. That is what a motivated teacher does.

I have a student who's court-ordered to attend class; he sits there without a pencil and paper or a book. I supply him and he sits there. When asked questions, he tells me very creative things I can do with myself. I remove him from the room, and he says he doesn't have to pass, just be there.

Later, I hear he has a suicide plan; I arrange to have him monitored by calling his parents. He returns, I'm thrilled, he sits there without paper and pen (I no longer have funds to supply him), and once again tells me lovely things I can do with myself. After discussion with his parents and counselor, he says he wants me as his teacher because I'm the only one who cares. He is alive, and he knows I care. He will fail world history, but he'll live to try again. Maybe because I care, he will decide to do something in class. Test that and show me data for that success. That's what a teacher is.

The trinity of education is about parents, students and educators taking responsibility. Please keep us in mind as you make new decisions that come down as unsupported mandates and are mutilated by legislators. Get a panel of educators to help. I know what works for me and the at-risk kids I work with; millions out there do, too. Ask us, in the trenches, for ideas. We so desperately want to succeed with as many as possible.

Letting go of one student is something we hate to do. Help us make public education better.

Kate Rachwitz, an educator since 1985 and a near-lifelong resident of Colorado, teaches high school social studies in District 11.

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