Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Chat with Duncan

It was over too fast.
No, it really was.
Over. Too. fast.
Nine teachers of the original twelve were able to make it in on the phone dialogue with Arne Duncan at 5:30 p.m. eastern time. Well, actually it was 5:34, but who's counting?
We were. We each had about two minutes of suggestions for the Blueprint.
As it turned out only four of us were able to speak.
First we had a little semantic issue. We were invited to ask questions but came only prepared with suggestions - hoping to spur a discussion.
After Heather Wolpert-Gawron and Marsha Ratzel spoke to the issue of College and Career Readiness, where I could only hear her third word because of the feedback and echoes (feedback and echoes? really? when you can Skype halfway round the world?) I spoke - on behalf of Renee Moore and Jane Fung who were unable to join us. Renee was traveling - again on behalf of teachers - and Jane was working with her kindergartners.
We do have day jobs.

Here is the Renee, Jane, Mary portion of the Teacher Blueprint for improved schools:

We need great teachers in every classroom and an effective force of teacher leaders to guide and inspire them. Uniform teacher quality is not just a matter of redistributing a few excellent teachers, but rather maximizing the professional potential of all gifted and dedicated educators. The talent is there, but we have underused the expertise and drive of much of the current teaching force.

The Blueprint is unnecessarily vague on defining teaching effectiveness. Stating the goal, “readiness,” does not describe nor prove support of the possible processes to achieve readiness. Some programs already exist that have been proven to help develop teachers and leaders of excellence, such as National Writing Project and National Board Certification. Both of these programs, with proven, positive results for student achievement, were initiated, designed, and are currently sustained by classroom practitioners, all prior to endorsement by national programs. Given the latitude to design and implement reform, teachers can affect real change. Yet some of these same programs are slated for Federal funding cuts. This sends a very mixed message: our goal is continuous improvement of instruction, but we're unwilling to pay for it.

It is also paradoxical to insist on excellence in teaching on the one hand while encouraging short-term, quick fixes to our teaching shortages on the other. Alternative preparation programs provide minimal, insufficient preparation for the complex 
work of teaching, particularly teaching in high-needs settings which requires
even more advanced pedagogical skills.

A well-trained teacher helps to create better prepared students. Therefore, we suggest the following: one way the teaching profession can be enhanced is by creating more Federal scholarships for pre-service teachers in certified programs, including promising urban and rural teacher residency programs. In addition, expanding funding for programs such as Teacher Quality Partnerships and improved training and collaboration time for existing staff in struggling schools could erase years of punitive measures and build a community of excellence in our most difficult schools. Developing and keeping effective teachers in 
high needs schools will also require policymakers to address the great inequity in working conditions for teachers and the great inequity in learning conditions for students in those schools.

Without great teachers: continuously supported, trained, dedicated teachers, our students cannot fulfill the goals of the Blueprint or live up to their potential. A great teacher is not an isolated figure who has magically appeared with those skills--great teachers learned how to be effective, and all teachers can improve. Truly exceptional teachers, those who are capable of reaching out to lift up our students from our most high-needs settings, need the support of a great administration behind them.

Sandee Palmquist was followed by Elena Aguilar and both were able to address "Diverse Learners."
But then. That was about it.
No opportunity for Anthony Cody,and Chuck Olynyk to speak to "Safe and Successful Schools" or Bob Williams, Nancy Flanagan, and Rian Fike, to speak to a "Complete Education" and "Fostering Innovation."
My compatriots will be posting what they were both able or unable to say.

Link to all of them for a complete read of our message from the Teacher Letters to Obama group. And comment. And share with your colleagues.

There are 3 million teachers in America and most of us have the summer free -- especially since needed summer programs for our youth have been axed across the nation. Read up. Pay attention. Make your voice heard.

And keep up with any developments by joining the Facebook page Teachers' Letters to Obama.


  1. Pay attention, indeed. Make your voices heard.

    Jump right in. You did a splendid job today, Mary--both on the rehearsed remarks and the unrehearsed comments. Rock on.

  2. Thanks Mary for your leadership and hard work on this! What a shame they couldn't give us 5 more minutes to speak. But that's okay, the door is open and maybe they will let us in further next time. I am in awe by you and Renee and hope that our work will continue and know it will.

    BTW: I loved the collaboration over competition piece and maybe next time we should just say our peace. If we say it enough, maybe someone will hear.

    Go Teachers!
    Classroom Teacher
    Writing Project Fellow

  3. Mary -
    Well, not too surprised, but I'm glad you took on the challenge and the opportunity. Keep going, Mary - by phone, blog, visits to D.C. Thanks for your efforts.

  4. Mary,
    I wasn't surprised by how well you conveyed your did a great job speaking up for us and for programs that really help teachers. I was delighted that I could every word you said.

    Jane and Renee would have been thrilled with how you delivered the message.

    Maybe we'll have another chance somewhere, sometime. And it did seem like they came to listen and we had more time to speak than you had experienced before. Small victories....victories never-the-less.

  5. Mary - I know from having listened in to the preparations for this call that the USDOE folks were well aware of your interest in offering ideas, not asking questions. Clearly they weren't looking for ideas. But many others are. Keep sharing them!