Monday, August 12, 2019

The Welcome Back Letter I’d Love to Give My Students – But Can’t by Steven Singer

originally published at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.com/2019/08/05/the-welcome-back-letter-id-love-to-give-my-students-but-cant/?fbclid=IwAR2ReWTVMbcm-SqMFQn_Bubun0GGB7IgXNDafh63ouOMkZ_vESfpyszSHUw

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I’m a very lucky guy.


I have reasonable autonomy, opportunities to collaborate with my co-workers and strong union protections.


Yet even after counting all my blessings, I still can’t do whatever I want. I can’t even do everything that my years of academic training and experience tells me would be best for my students.

 
Every year I have to watch out for this data metric and do that much more work because my district has lost even more funding to the vampire charter school in our neighborhood. Or lawmakers have compromised away another several hours of my time to do meaningless paperwork – time that I either have to take away from my students or my family.

I see all this and I just want to scream.

I want to tell everyone what’s happening so that they can help stop the madness.

And I do scream into the whirl of cyberspace on my blog.

But I can’t do the same in my district. I can’t tell those right in front of me – my school board, my administrators, the parents or students.


I know this because it already has.

Every year on the first day of school, I give my students a welcome letter.
 
This is the kind of letter I’d love to give them – but don’t dare:


Dear Students,

In a matter of weeks you will be invited back to school and I wanted to let you in on a little secret.

We missed you.

That’s right. Your teachers missed the heck out of you over the summer.

Don’t get me wrong. We enjoyed our time at home with our own children, time on vacation, time spent continuing to refine our craft, and/or time spent working another job. (Hey! Those extra pencils, papers, books and supplies aren’t going to buy themselves! Right?)

Here’s another little secret – your teachers come to school every day not because we have to, but because we want to.

We literally could do anything else with our lives but we’ve devoted our time to you.

Why? Because we love you.

I know that’s mushy talk, but it’s true.

Another secret: We know you’re nervous about your first day back. But – heck – so are we!

Don’t forget you’re young. We’re old!

We know you’re wondering who your teachers will be this year, what they’ll require you to do, which friends will be in your classes, who will sit with you at lunch…

We wonder if we’re still going to be able to do all the things we need to do to help you learn? Are we going to be able to provide a safe, secure environment for you? Will we be able to keep you engaged, and excited to learn? Will we be able to actually teach everything you want and need to know?

This is going to be a challenging year for all of us.

But that’s a good thing.

We’re in this together.

That’s kind of an important point.

You see, we know you’ll probably be asked to take high stakes standardized tests. Just know that it’s not us who’s asking. It’s the state and federal government. Lawmakers seem to think that your answers on multiple choice tests are very, very important.

Another secret: they aren’t.

We don’t care how you score on these tests. Not really. We don’t even care if you take them at all – and if your parents decide not to have you sit through this garbage, we will honor their wishes, because they are the ultimate authority on you – their children.

We know that standardized tests don’t assess how much you learn. The tests your teachers make do that – the work that you do in class every day shows it better than any canned corporate exam.

We know those scores don’t define who you are. We see you every day. We see your creativity, your intelligence, your fire, your verve, your passion.

We want to stoke that fire and help you become the people you always wanted to be.

And none of that can be shown on a standardized test.

THAT’S our job – not to turn you into great test takers but into the kind of people you most want to be.

Oh. By the way, please thank your parents for us.

Thank them for ignoring the hype about the flashy charter school that hedge fund managers opened on the hill – the school sucking up our funding, cutting services for students and making its investors very rich.

Thank them for declining the shiny school voucher to Pastor Dan’s Creationism, Anti-vaxxor, Climate Denial Academy. Thank them for passing up the tax rebate to Ivy Laurel Prep – where the rich white kids go.
 
Thank them for trusting us with the most precious things in their lives – you.

You really mean a lot to all of us.

So rest up and try to have fun for the remainder of your summer. We’ll do the same.

And before you know it, we’ll be back together in class expanding minds, expressing hearts and having a great time!

Love you all!

Your Teachers

 
That’s the kind of welcome back letter I would love to give my students – but can’t.


It was partially inspired by a REAL welcome back letter given by a New York Superintendent.
 
Around this time last year, he gave it to 11 principals and about 600 teachers in the
Patchogue-Medford School District before someone posted it online and it went viral.

His audience was teachers, but his message was the same:

Aug. 14, 2018

Dear….

Once again… this letter is too let you know I DO NOT CARE what your state growth score is. Let me be clear… I DO NOT CARE. It does not define you. You are more than a score. I’m hoping you know by now that the children and parents you serve appreciate your talents and the ability to make a difference in their lives. Keep your head up and your eye on what is most important… your students and your teaching craft.

The Patchogue-Medford School District fully supports you as an educator, regardless of what this meaningless, invalid and inhumane score states. You have my permission to throw it out, or use it for any creative ways you may think of. I have a feeling divergent thinking will be at an all-time high at Pat-Med. Let me know if you need anything and it is my sincere hope you have an outstanding year.

With Warmest Regards,

Michael J. Hynes, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools

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Cheers to Superintendent Hynes!

If only every teacher, administrator and school board member could be that brave and honest!
 
Here’s another letter given to year six students at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire, England, along with their results from a recent standardized exam:

“Please find enclosed your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your very best during this tricky week.

However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you- the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do.

They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.

They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school.

They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.

They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.

So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.”

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Here’s another one to parents from a principal in Singapore:

“The exams of your child are to start soon. I know you are all really anxious for your child to do well.

But, please do remember, amongst the students who will be sitting for the exams there is an artist, who doesn’t need to understand Math… There is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t care about History or English literature…There is a musician, whose Chemistry marks won’t matter…There’s an athlete…whose physical fitness is more important than Physics… If your child does get top marks, that’s great! But if he or she doesn’t…please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s OK, its just an exam! They are cut out for much bigger things in life. Tell them, no matter what they score…you love them and will not judge them.

Please do this, and when you do… watch your children conquer the world. One exam or low mark won’t take away…their dreams and talent. And please, do not think that doctors and engineers…are the only happy people in the world.”
PrincipalsLetterToParents
 
If teachers and principals were allowed to speak freely, I bet there’d be a lot more of these kinds of letters.

School should not be centered on testing and test scores. It should be centered on students.


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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1 comment:

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