Educators Tell Congress To Walk In Their Shoes


By Mary Ellen Flannery

If those suited-up politicians could spend a day in your shoes, they might think differently about No Child Left Behind, or health-care reform or merit pay for educators.

That’s what we figured when we asked educators in the last issue of NEA Today Express to write to their members of Congress, describing what they might learn if they traded the marble halls of government for the classrooms of America. And your responses – rich with emotion and detail – should move even the most cynical mind or heart.

“I love teaching and I love my kids, but I don’t understand politicians who think teachers are lazy and bad. Please come to my school and try my job for a few hours,” urged Wellington, Kan., teacher Patricia Barnard. “Get a dose of the real world, outside the halls of federal legislation,” said Colorado teacher Martin Wolf.

What would you say to your legislators? Tell us in the comments below and head to NEA’s Legislative Action Center, where you can contact your lawmakers directly on the issues that are important to you.

Your letters on NCLB point to very real discrepancies between the fantasyland of federal legislation and the realities faced by teachers, especially special educators. They pointed to the tragic narrowing of curriculum: what happened to music, art? In some schools, science and social studies are disappearing too. And they also described how the current climate, where what you teach and how you teach it is prescribed by lawmakers has led to the demise of the art of teaching.

“Today my principal told me that I can teach reading and math only in my sixth-grade class… I’m not allowed to teach science, social studies or writing… Can I incorporate some of this into my reading and math? Yes. I can do that because I’m a great teacher that cares about a well-rounded student. But it won’t be enough.”
– Kevin Clark, Centralia, Wash.

“I am spending six weeks out of the precious school year, preparing my first-grade students for testing using a testing booklet [that]…does not test in a way that first-grade students learn. The students end up thinking they are not very smart and yet they are very capable students… The tears that I have wiped from students’ eyes would break your heart.”
– Jane Cross, Clayton, Calif.

“Fewer and fewer teachers at our school look at their work as a profession, most of the creative potential having been taken away. [It’s become] nothing more than just another job, like flipping hamburgers at a fast-food restaurant – where someone else prescribes what to teach, the pace of teaching, the assessments that must be given, and, more and more, prescribing how the hamburger must be properly flipped.”
– Robert Blecher, Oak Park, Ill.

“Language delays are a common diagnosis with children who are deaf or hard of hearing… One of my biggest frustrations with the federal testing requirements is that a child with a reading level of 2, let’s say, may be in the 8th grade. This child is not tested on his reading ability level; he is tested on his grade level. That means in tough core curriculum – math, science and social studies, as well as reading, children are being expected to pass tests they can’t read!”
– Andrea Pelzel, Dallas, Texas

On merit pay
How about merit pay for Congress? Your letters point to the impossibility of attaching educator pay to student test scores in a fair and equitable way. How about this instead: Pay educators what they deserve.

“Now if you’d like to apply that same kind of pay-for-performance idea to your job, I might be a little more ready to accept the way you want to pay me… In reality, it would be impossible to determine how well you are doing your job based on the success or failure of our economy. In the reality of the classroom teacher, it’s just as impossible to determine pay based on student performance.”
– Denise Blackmon, Hinesville, Ga.

“I am a special education teacher in Virginia. I work harder than most people I know. My husband, who is as equally educated as me, makes three times as much as I do. When he comes home, his work is done, but mine goes on even into the weekend.”
– Lana Ludovico, Stafford, Va.

On health care reform
Thank you, President Obama. And thank you, Senators and Representatives who refused to roll back these welcome and needed reforms. Educators who see sick and hurting families are writing to tell you that they know that these measures will make a difference.

“Students whose basic health needs are neglected…are at a strong disadvantage in the classroom. These disadvantages show up as part of the achievement gap, discrediting capable children who struggle with medical issues, not learning issues.”
– Lisa Wintner, Calabasas, Calif.

On funding for education
There’s only so far you can stretch a dollar before it falls to pieces. And that’s what many educators report they’re seeing in their classrooms – the remnants of a once-glorious public education system. While state and federal budget cuts might be saving the jobs of politicians, it’s certainly costing their children.

“Due to budget cuts last year, my school lost their art, music, physical education, library and foreign language teachers… It’s sad to see such a quality education be devastated.”
– Patricia Mulligan, Cherry Hill, N.J.

“With the budget cuts that have already been made, education is working on the bare minimum of what is required to adequately teach our students… Students, teachers, and other educational staff have to deal with the consequences of [your] decisions. Please never forget to keep that in mind when you are voting for budget cuts or salary issues.”
– Philippe Saari, Silver Spring, Md.

Want to get your own copy of NEA Today Express? Sign up here!

Reader Comments

  1. This is to anyone with a voice, opinion or vote on education who has not spent any time in the public school classroom. Take off your suits, your opinions, your ideas, your attitude and your party lines. Grab a back-pack, some very comfortable clothes and a school lunch–PLEASE. Select one random classroom. Spend a week–not an hour, a day or a photo op. Spend a week in a public school classroom of your choice! THEN COME BACK TO THE TABLE with reality under your belt and a greater respect for what is happening in public education. Walk a mile, don’t talk a mile until you’ve been there, done that.

  2. If all the people who are telling teachers how to teach, ever spent even a week in a classroom, they would know that often the least prepared students score the best on the tests. Some excellent students get nervous as soon as they hear the word test and do poorly. Some students never finish their class work or homework, yet score the best when tested. And you’re going to pay the teachers by how well their students do on the testing?

  3. I feel as strongly as anyone about teaching. I don’t feel the political people are even looking at our messages. Certainly, anyone who teachers special education is very aware of the problems of Leave No Child Behind. I agree that things are unfair. It would be nice to have someone in government who listened to us and really cared.

  4. As much as I agree with these comments. I doubt very much that ANY lawmaker will take time to read them. I would like to suggest that we invite our lawmakers, individually, to spend a FULL DAY trailing us at our jobs. Be friendly and educate them. (Don’t let them make any speeches or take questions. They are there to learn from YOU.)

  5. Let’s not forget Ben Austin, children’s enemy number 1. He has no teaching credential, yet he dares to tell schools and teachers how to do their job! Any other profession would see this as ludicrous, but for some reason they tolerate it when it comes to their children’s education? Let’s tell Ben Austin to just keep his mouth shut until he gets a teaching credential and some experience inside the classrooms. The same goes for the Gates foundation. Mr. Gates, your speciality is computers, not education. Butt out!

  6. It is time that those in charge of making educational policy started getting their feet wet in education before they dare to start telling us teachers how to do our job. If education is failing our students it is not the teachers. We work brains off. Failure in education has come from policy makers with little or no experience teaching. It is time you politicians realize that your failed policies are the true reason behind education. Incompetent people get elected to the school board and start imposing without truly understanding the art of teaching. These educationally inexperienced lawmakers push for laws to “reform’ education and they fail. Then you dare judge the teachers? If your policies fail, it is your ignorance in establishing policy, not the fault of teachers in following YOUR DIRECTIVES.

  7. Anyone who deems themselves able to fix someone else’s job should walk a mile in their shoes BEFORE they decide what should be done with the people or the job.
    I would venture to say most politicians have NOT stood up in front of a class of students where some didn’t have breakfast because there wasn’t any food in their house, others have to work at a job after school to have enough money to buy supplies because their parents don’t have extra money for them after necessities are purchased, some have to take care of their siblings and get them ready for school because parents aren’t around to do that or students that LOVE school because it’s their one safe place with an adult who truly cares about them.
    Come and enter our world.

  8. I would not dare tell Congress how to do their jobs because I have not been where they have and I do not pretend to know what they do day in and day out. But for some reason, they have no problem trying to tell me how to do my job and placing restrictions on me even though they have no idea how to teach. I have been teaching for 14+ years, and take my job very seriously. I do not appreciate my hands being tied more and more from people who have not even walked in my shoes.

    1. It is true. Congress should start demanding that anybody who dares to comment on education to keep their hands off. The old addage says, “Too many cooks spoiled the broth.” This is true in education. Too many inexperienced people daring to say what is wrong with education without even taking the time to peek into the classroom.

  9. All of this material is all too kind to politicians. Give me the same healthcare plan that Congress has. Give me the same retirement pension that Congress has. Give me the same wisdom that all memgers of Congress claims to have about conditions in public classrooms of which I have never seen any of them in. Give me the power to hold parents accountable for the problem children they have produced and expect public schools to fix! Grant me these simple requests so that I too can be all knowing about educating children. I will be anxiously awaiting for the politicians to grant me these requests. If these requests are not possible, then grant me one that costs no money. Leave Congress for six weeks and SUBSTITUTE in a poverty level school and then tell me with a straight face how your actions in Congress are in the best interests of the children.

    1. Amen! Well said Tim. I challenge any member of Congress to walk into any classroom in America and do the job of educators. We had a vocal man in our community who trashed educators and public schools weekly. Someone finally got tired of it and challenged him to spend a week…..he lasted only ONE day! His retraction was published the next day in the local paper. Wonder how many days our fearless leaders would last???

      1. Agreed, Mary. This is exactly what every local should do – challenge those critics who accuse us of everything under the sun to do our jobs for a week – ALL of it. That would include the planning, correcting, assessing, interpreting, remediating, counseling, and endless other tasks that we do on a daily basis.

        And while those loudmouths are walking in our shoes, the press should cover every moment of the time they spend in the classroom – accurately and honestly. (OK, OK, I’m certainly asking for too much!)

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