Just a Teacher

An Honest Exchange with Betsy DeVos

Dear Mrs. DeVos,

Hi! Congratulations on your appointment to the Department of Education. As a former student and current urban educator, I have about 37 years invested in this system.

I enjoy reading fiction, watching Netflix, and am steadily working on eliminating empty carbs from my food environment.  Why am I sharing this with you? I’d like to invite you to a good old-fashioned slumber party.

But first, I value transparency.

When I first heard about your nomination, I quickly looked at Twitter to see what your platform was. I noted all of your pro school choice tweets and tried to reserve judgement. I heard you talk about grizzly bears and somewhat tried to defend you. I watched Al Franken pop quiz you on Proficiency versus Growth models. I cringed for you and got worried.

Full disclosure- I did contact my state senator and requested that he not affirm you. I did it on the grounds that I wanted someone in your position to equally advocate for public, private, and charter education.

Now, on to the sleepover!

I really want to practice what I model for my students: inclusivity, love, compassion, forgiveness, and researching topics of interest in order to develop a credible claim with supporting evidence and a complete analysis without run on sentences and with proper use of punctuation, always capitalizing “I.”

Please come and shadow me at work for a full week. Not the VIP 5 minute stroll or one class or one day.

A. Whole. Week. The good. The bad. The “Um…what just happened?”

The only catch is- I can’t stop and talk to you. I can’t answer your questions while I’m teaching. You’ll see how I use every single second…

*Judiciously delivering the curriculum

*Adapting to the responses from my students

*Responding to nonverbal cues

*Making fun of myself a lot to make my children feel better

*Creating high expectations

*Providing structure

*Celebrating problem solving

*Giving out pencils

*Sipping my coffee (I can make 8 ounces last 4 hours. #NoBathroomBreaksForTeachers)

*Signing nurse and bathroom passes

*Acknowledging inappropriate behaviors and championing self monitoring of noted behaviors

*Sending emergency emails to the gigantic network of support available to our children (well, no longer gigantic due to cuts but we do the best we can)

*Occasionally teaching a New Kids On The Block chorus. (You never know what will be on the test.)

(BTW #1- With the highest level of respect intended, you can only use the bathroom when I can use the bathroom.)

(BTW #2- Lesson planning isn’t on the list- I can’t do that while the students are in the room. That’s on my own time. Yes, I get a prep. After running to the bathroom- see BTW #1- I find 30-ish minutes isn’t sufficient for analyzing, reflecting, and planning.)

I can’t guarantee what time we will leave. It varies on the to do list each day. On some days, I am able to book out the door about 15 minutes after my contracted time. On those days, I’m running to a doctor, my second job, or to Wegman’s…to get my second cup of coffee and do more work. We will have to sit in the cafe area- they kicked me out of the restaurant part in the fall. As kind as they were, they frowned upon me taking up a table for 3 hours to grade essays. Other days, I’m leaving in the dark. I’m pleased by my accomplishments and distraught at what was not yet achieved. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your week will coincide with my adolescent coaching group. I offer this service for free. These young women are the future of our society, and they already show such wisdom and intuition. It’s not measurable on a test, but I think it is the most valuable part of their education.

Don’t forget the sleepover. That’s a deal breaker for me. I think it is important for you to see what the “non school life” of an educator is. You should know I have a guest room totally available for your use. It’s crowded by the back stretcher I bought years ago due to a work related injury. I am often too tired to remember to use it, but my cats love it. Oh! My cats! I have two. I hope you aren’t allergic. And, don’t be alarmed if you hear me talk in my sleep or scream. I often dream about school, too.

You may be thinking, “Once we get to Suzie’s house, this will be a great time to ask questions and share feedback about the day over dinner.” #NotGonnaHappen

I’ll need that time to decompress, work my second (and sometimes third) job, grade more essays and multiple choice tests in preparation for our benchmark tests in preparation for the state test, return emails, shop for school supplies (Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer are getting expensive), make dinner (or, let’s be honest- stop at Five Guys, there’s no time to make dinner or I think there will be or plan for there to be but a child related emergency at school derails all of my plans and anything I hoped to achieve gets pushed back), pet my cats if they let me, and watch Netflix. When I’m watching Netflix, it may look like I am relaxed or free or not busy. Netflix is my mediation. 20% of my brain is still thinking about school, 30% of my brain is thinking about empty carbs, 40% of my brain is also thinking about school again, 5% is thinking about paying my bills, and the rest is watching TV. I’m not very good at meditation.

We can absolutely talk at the end of the week! It would have to be early. I’m usually asleep on the couch around 7:30ish on Friday nights.

Then, to make this exchange honest, I will shadow you for a whole week. I’m truly and sincerely and not sarcastically interested in your job and all of its moving parts. I genuinely look forward to having my world expanded. I also want to assure you that you do not need to provide me with dinner or evening entertainment when I sleep over. I do require a hot shower in the morning and a coffee to get me going. I will bring along my protein shakes, electronic device to watch Netflix, and my essays to grade.

Because even if I take a week off? The work does not go away.

Please, my tone is not intended to be condescending. This is me. Not a polished manicured version of myself. Simply my thoughts. I do not want to spend the next 4-8 years in an antogonistic relationship with the federal or state departments charged with education. A wise mentor of mine once said, “Children deserve a high quality education no matter their zip code.” Her intention was to improve the education within the zip code, not bus them out. Please, support my zip code.

With regards,

Just a Teacher

PS. I’m honestly very tired as I write this and reread it. It has been a long day. I’m confident that there are typos and hope that my message is still clear. Under the scoring guidelines provided by my state’s Department of Education, “Few errors may be present in grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation; errors present do not interfere with meaning.” [Note- The comma between grammar and usage bothers me. I’ll let it go.]

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