Dear President Obama:
It seems like such a short while ago I was casting my vote for you with great hopes of the change that vote would bring about in our nation. Today, I find myself as a public school teacher and mother more disheartened than ever. Over the next few days and weeks you will likely be inundated with responses regarding the cuts in funding to the National Writing Project (NWP). While I have been involved only intermittently with NWP over my 20 years as a public school teacher, I think the outpouring of response you are going to receive bears considering as I think it addresses a larger need/concern in our educational system.
NWP represents the best of what we should be doing in schools and classrooms nationwide. At a time when we are struggling to create a school system which can produce a globally competitive citizenry, we focus our money, attention and energy on multiple choice measures which diminish thinking and reasoning and take our dollars away from professional development for teachers which helps them create classrooms where students are pushed to think, reason and communicate effectively. I’m perplexed by this.
Who am I and what do I know about any of this? I am a 20 year veteran teacher who has taught elementary, middle and high school. I am a former district Teacher of the Year who has been nominated for numerous other awards. I am a teacher who has spent the bulk of her career at Title I schools working with low-socioeconomic and disenfranchised students. And I am the mother of 4 school aged boys who expects her children to be able to do more than fill in bubbles on a multiple choice test.
The very nature of the NWP lies in its’ motto- “Improving Writing and Learning in the Nation’s Schools”. It is a teacher-directed, teacher-centered professional development experience that directly impacts the students in the classrooms of those teachers who participate. As a young teacher, participating in a NWP affiliated group helped me understand what I needed to do to instruct my students in writing- something I had not learned in my teacher education program. NWP is the very model of what we should be promoting more extensively in order to bring about the change in our schools which will create thinking, problem solving, literate 21st century U.S. citizens.
More testing and teacher merit pay are not going to make me a better teacher or help my students become the future citizens who find a cure for cancer or discover a cheaper, cleaner fuel to run our nation. Programs like NWP which teach challenging our kids, pushing them to think, helping them discover their voices and showing them how they can make a difference- that’s where we should be putting more money, not less. I strongly encourage you to talk to NWP teachers and their students. Find out what is happening in those classrooms. Hear about the difference it makes. And then cut the money for standardized testing and put it where it will truly make a difference. Be the change that I hoped for when I cast my vote several years ago.
English Teacher, Mother, Advocate for Kids
2007 Elk Grove Unified School District Teacher of the Year