Educators have some choice words for DeVos

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by Ahmed Moneib; image courtesy of Kamwera klzl

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Education Votes asked you, the educators of America, what you would tell Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the students you teach and the schools in which you work. We received many responses: earnest, heartfelt, informative, hopeful, caring, and, yes, angry. Below are a representative sample of your responses.

First, here are a few of the destructive policies and proposals that DeVos has pursued during her tenure.

  • Along with President Trump, DeVos has proposed a budget that cuts education programs by $9.2 billion.
  • She wants to divert $1.4 billion from public schools to unaccountable voucher and charter schools.
  • She rolled back protections for student loan borrowers.
  • She refused to say if federally funded voucher and charter schools would be banned from discriminating against students based on their sexual orientation or religion.
  • She compared neighborhood public schools to outdated flip phones.
  • She proposed eliminating all funding for after-school programs and teacher training.
  • She claimed that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are “pioneers of school choice,” ignoring that the schools were created because other colleges and universities did not accept Black students.

I am a speech-language pathologist. In my profession I could have chosen to work in a variety of settings, but I chose public school because I felt I could truly make a difference.  Upon entering a suburban public school, I never realized the challenges that many of my children face on a daily basis.  I never realized how difficult it was to teach a child who is abused, hungry, or homeless. Many people are so quick to criticize teachers, but they don’t know the whole story.  This year alone I have children that are homeless, children who have parents in jail, foster children who have seen too much, and children who have been abused (sexually, physically, and emotionally). We need to work on solving poverty so children are not hungry or worried about their parent who does not have a job.  Children need public schools that have social workers and psychologists that can help these at risk students.  My school district does not even have a social worker at the elementary level.  Instead of spreading the money out to [private] schools, invest it in public schools so we can be successful.  We know what the children need.  Please listen to us so we can help all students.

Alison Gimberlein, New York

I went to a religious high school and received a private education. I can say that my students in the public school I work in are more prepared for the diversity and challenges of today’s society having attended a public school. I believe that diverting public funds to private schools segregates our society and adds to the wide divide that separate us. My public schools brings together students of many different backgrounds to learn and grow together. This is a tolerance and unity much needed in our society today. The biggest problem facing my students is not lack of choice or failing schools but poverty. Children cannot learn effectively if they live a daily struggle of hunger, fear, homelessness and uncertainty. I hope you add to the resources our public schools need instead of continuing to divide us.

image by WoodleyWonderWorks
Ashley Painter, Michigan 

My story is not one of challenges, but one of virtue, of the inherent power of public education to be a force for unity and advancement among our upcoming generation. I teach high school English in a public school made up of approximately 65% or more military dependents, situated near Fort Drum, NY. As there are no schools on post, we along with other area districts absorb these students.

You (DeVos) should be able to appreciate that as a teacher of writing and of American literature, my class is centered on interpretation, evaluation, healthy discourse, and the insights that prior knowledge and experiences can bring to a study of the greatest authors of our history and the rising icons of contemporary works. This being said, I teach students who have lived around the nation and the world. If you could absorb the way these students come together and interact to enrich my class and enhance the vibrancy of our school through clubs, the arts, athletics, and community service — which each year renew the talents and passions of our young people — you would understand how a free, open education that accepts all students for the betterment of our nation truly operates. Your money cannot begin to match the value of such a transformational experience, and to think that your aim is to squeeze the life out of our enterprise is unconscionable. We should be partners, not adversaries, and the root of our work should not be relegated to profit margins and who has the dollars — at the expense of the heart — to teach our young people.

Michael Struchen, New York

I teach in an area that has been horribly effected by the opioid epidemic. My students receive free breakfast and lunch. They come to school with stories and lives that don’t allow them to concentrate in school. I am a first- year teacher experiencing culture shock due to these students and their lives and trying to figure out what makes these kids want to learn. I am trying to figure out how to supply my students with a classroom library to relate to them, so their brains can learn about empathy. I live on about $1,000 to pay for food, bills and any supplies that my students don’t have access to. I am learning to be a counselor and parent because my students do not have anyone else in their lives. I am a first year teacher that is figuring out how to do all of these things in addition to teach the content and the standards. Betsy DeVos, I would love for you to be me for two weeks. To have the emotionally exhausting days and the 3 hour preparation each day. I would love to see how you handle the students and hear your feedback about what needs to be changed. There are systemic issues that need to be addressed. There are cultural issues that need to be addressed. And paying for an education isn’t near any one of my parents’ minds. They’re trying to figure out how to keep food on the table and the electricity on for their families. Education is the foundation of democracy. We’re expecting these same students to make decisions for the future of our country, but they struggle with reasonable coping mechanisms. Help me create them into future lawyers, doctors and world-changers. That’s what the American Dream is all about, right? Creating a generation that is better than the current one?

Natalie Geer, Ohio

My public school education and my high school mathematics teacher saved me from a life of poverty in rural upstate NY. My teachers saw a gift for mathematics in me an encouraged me to become a high school mathematics teacher. Along with their encouragement, a strong work ethic instilled by my parents and the generosity of the taxpayers of the state of NY, I was able to obtain both a BS and a MA degree from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and Albany. I have been a mathematics teacher in the public schools of NY for 27 years. The majority of my students have gone on to successful careers in teaching, engineering, business, finance, banking, medicine and law. Besides teaching I spent 29 years in the active and inactive Navy. I credit my public education as a major reason I achieved the rank of Captain. Our public schools do not to be dismembered through so called voucher schemes, privatization, charter schools or tax credits. I vow to fight these misguided ideas. I am a registered Republican and this is one area where the party is gone off course. Strengthen public education by supporting our nation’s teachers, working with your fellow cabinet members to bring jobs to urban areas, ESL support to areas with high immigrant populations, clinics that provide basic dental and medical support to our most vulnerable communities and expand nutrition programs so that many of our children do not go hungry when they are not in school. People are going to judge your effectiveness based on your actions, not what you said at your confirmation hearings. Good luck.

Michael Fredette, New York

I work in a high school with students with developmental disabilities in a life skills classroom. Many parents struggle to find the care for their disabled child that allows them to work. The students here have very limited options for community inclusion once leaving school due to the lack of vocational training options in the community. Shrinking budgets often, in my opinion, determine support needs for the students I serve. I look forward to budget solutions that allow us to educate and not simply unfunded mandates. Thank you for your consideration.

Steve Campbell, Oregon

I am a graduate of a public grade school system as well as a public school teacher here in Illinois.  I believe that our public schools are critical in providing excellent educational opportunities to ALL students. All too often, I hear of private/parochial schools asking students with special needs or behavior problems to leave. Where would they go if there wasn’t a public school that accepts everyone regardless of their background or needs? We welcome all students with open hearts. Sometimes we are the only safe place they know.  We provide the only meals and love for many of our students. We work hard to make them successful students. We deserve your respect and we deserve to be able to work with you to make education in the United States a top priority and EQUAL for ALL.

Tina Governale, Illinois 

As an elementary teacher, I can tell you how important it is to provide an effective, quality education for all our students, especially our students with disabilities and challenges. It’s our job to set a strong foundation in the lower grades so that our students have the opportunities to succeed in their education. We need to be able to provide materials, educational resources and technology but most important direct instruction from successful teachers. Teacher turnover rates are continuing at a higher rate because of the low base pay rate but predominantly because of the bureaucracy involved: high stakes testing, teacher evaluations tied to student performance; etc.

Help us help our students!!! Help us get back to the teaching our students need!!!

Velma Rodriguez, Texas

My older son graduated from our local public schools with honors to go on to our local public university (University of Michigan) where he just finished his second year with honors. My younger son is on the autism spectrum, in regular classes (not special education), and is doing well thanks to support from the state for autistic children. By diverting money to private schools you will put this system, which is working very well for my children, at risk.  Please, do not do anything that takes money from our public education system.  Where problems exist, we should concentrate on how to improve, but, please, do not undermine funding for schools that work.

William Saenz, Michigan

Reader Comments

  1. Republicans use the term “government school” to refer to public schools. They truly want to get rid of public education and Devos is their tool to do this. We definitely need to keep educating the public about this. I appreciate what NEA is doing to keep teachers in the loop. Thank you.

  2. As a retired public school teacher, I still see the issues that pushed me to retirement. Public officials that have never been in a classroom telling teachers how and what to teach. High stakes testing that is pushed by companies that profit from those very tests. Last, an Education Secretary that is the enemy of public education personified. Someone who has operated for-profit schools and believes public funds should be diverted to private schools has no business being in Betsy DeVos’ position.

  3. I teach in a school similar to a charter school. 100% of the students receive free and reduced meals. 100% of my students have an incarcerated parent or live in poverty. We are a college prep school that admits these underserved students based on a lottery. We have grades 6-12 and 100% of our students from our first two graduating classes have gone on to college. Without this opportunity, one can imagine what might have happened to many of these students living in an urban setting. After 42 years of teaching, I have seen an enormous increase in funds go to the bureaucracy of education. So many “higher up” positions have come into being over these years and yet students are not more successful. I believe in what Betsy Devos wants to do, as more money, more money, more money has not created better school environments for many students of the United States. Choice is the best option for our students stuck in bad schools. Bad schools exist in spite of the amazing teachers in this country.

  4. I think everyone should read the book Dark Money by Jane Mayer. It explains why people like Betsy DeVos are making policy decisions that are not in keeping with democratic values. They are not interested in equality or a progressive democracy. They are exploiters and don’t want people getting in the way of their business interests.

  5. Thanks for all the comments by teachers. I went to public schools; my children went to public schools; my grandchildren went to public schools; my great grandson is in a public school. All are well-employed, except for me and my great grandson. I taught in a private religious school for 8 years. We could refuse anyone. Do not give our open public education away to private for-profit and religious schools.

    1. Thank you Katherine!
      I don’t understand why any taxpayer would support this idea other than for selfish reasons.

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