An open letter to Douglas Gansler, attorney general of Maryland and candidate for governor
Dear Mr. Gansler:
As another school year winds down and I complete my 21st year in the Maryland Public School System, I am pondering where I should cast my vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election. It is a difficult choice. I do not need my union to tell me for whom I should vote. I can choose on my own. After your recent ad campaign, I can tell you who will not have my vote: you.
I watched the ad on television and laughed at it, even as I shook my head and rolled my eyes. You want to "lift up our kids." What on earth does that really mean? You want "Skill over seniority in every classroom!" Good luck with that one, too.
All of us who have been in the classroom, either for a year or 30, should take offense at your ad. To suggest those of us in the classroom are not skilled is a slap in the face of those of us who head into those classrooms every day to try to convince bored, disinterested students that we really do want them to learn.
According to a 2008 National Education Association article entitled "Why They Leave," nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. Why? Maybe they got into the profession to pay their college bills. Maybe they realized that they were fighting an uphill battle. Maybe they were disrespected, assaulted or both. Or maybe, just maybe, they got fed up with the negative stereotypes that surround teachers and education today.
Believe me, Mr. Gansler, not one of us is in this profession for the money. Those of us who are "career teachers" are not in the classroom because it pays the bills. We are there because we want to be. We love children. You already have "skilled" teachers. What we need is more support and understanding. I accept my responsibility as a teacher, I understand my job. I love my kids. But to hold me completely accountable for the success or failure of my students is preposterous. I have my students for about 6.5 hours a day. I do not go home with them. I can not control what they do before and after school. It is not up to me whether they watch television or play video games all night. I do not feed them dinner or make sure they do their homework. In short, I can give my all for 6.5 hours, but if the home environment is not stable, or other adult supervision is not available, my hands are tied.
I am not in any way bashing the parents. But let us not be politically correct. For one thing, all of us know, but are afraid to articulate, that not all of our wonderful children go home to loving, supportive families. Some go hungry. Some do not even have a fixed address. Some are responsible for younger siblings. Some are not under adult supervision. And let's not forget those families who have no choice but to leave their children alone for extended periods so that they may work to pay the bills.
In my 21 years of teaching, I have met all kinds of parents. I have had parents of my African immigrant students bow to me and kiss my hands. I have had grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-parents, foster parents and "parents by proxy" beg their child to stay focused and get an education and be somebody. But then again, I have had a parent give me a "black power" salute and tell me I wasn't qualified to teach his children because I was "the wrong color." (I am white.) I have had parents who were still adolescents when they became parents who now do not know how to handle their kids. And yes, I have had parents who do not notify the school when their contact information changes. And once, I had a parent tell me, "Do not call me again. He is your problem between 8 and 3!"
So Mr. Gansler, in conclusion, I want to reiterate on behalf of all my fellow teachers, that most of us accept our responsibility in the classroom. But we are only part of the bigger equation: Quality schools + skilled teachers + supportive parents = successful students. You don't need a fancy curriculum to understand that.
Brenda Payne teaches at Woodmoor Elementary School in Baltimore County. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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