An Upset Educator’s Letter to Oprah — ‘Ask Teachers.’

After Oprah Winfrey aired a special Monday on education, many educators were angry at what they believed was the media mogul jumping on the teacher-bashing bandwagon. Immediately after the show, upset commenters filled more than 200 pages on Winfrey’s message boards. But one took her disappointment right to Winfrey, writing a heartfelt letter directly to the television star.

Britton Gildersleeve, a college writing teacher in Oklahoma who also helms the Oklahoma State University Writing Project, said she wrote the letter “in a white heat, I was so angry,” following the show’s airing. In her 20 years, she’s never seen the public and self-appointed education “reformers” so willing to bash educators, Gildersleeve said.

“I think it’s convenient,” Gildersleeve said, pointing out that even those willing to bash teachers they don’t know can easily remember a favorite teacher from their own past.

Her letter to Oprah wasn’t a personal attack, Gildersleeve said.

“I don’t dislike Oprah,” she said. “I understand she has a good heart. But why didn’t she have anyone on the show,” who could speak to the challenges of public school teachers? The show featured Microsoft founder Bill Gates, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and Davis Guggenheim, the director of the forthcoming education documentary Waiting For Superman.

A highlight from her letter: “If you want to change education, Oprah, don’t make the mistake everyone else has. Ask teachers. Would you have a conversation about the national state of medicine and health care without asking for the input of doctors, nurses and patients? And yet we have left parents, teachers and students completely out of this critical talk.”

Following is the full text of the letter:

Dear Oprah,

I teach. Given, I teach at university level, but I’ve been teaching for several years — about 20, to be exact. And I’ve seen the changes that No Child Left Behind — and your beloved testing — have made in my students. None of the changes are good: students want to be spoon-fed (they are in testing environments); students want to do only what will get them high grades. The list is long and sad.

I also direct a non-profit federally funded professional development grant for teachers, pre-k to university, the Oklahoma State University Writing Project. It’s the local site of the National Writing Project, an amazing partnership among research universities, classroom teachers, and schools. Not to mention the inclusion of parents and students. All of these voices are absent in the current national conversation.

Oprah, let me tell you about Oklahoma teachers and their classrooms. Many of my friends and colleagues at the high school level have more than 170-200 students in their classrooms. Do you think a student is worth 10 minutes a week from his/ her teacher? Outside of the classroom? Do you think a “good” teacher should spend that much time on weekly grading — 10 minutes a student? Please do the math: that would mean another 83+ hours weekly, Oprah — outside of classroom. IF each student receives 10 minutes of attention on his or her work outside the classroom.

“Don’t they have plan periods?” I hear people ask. No, many don’t. “Plan periods” went the way of smaller classrooms — there are too many school duties: hall monitors, cafeteria duty, mandated professional development that has nothing to do with the school’s demographics. And even if they did, that’s less than five hours weekly…

And yes, good teachers work a lot of outside hours. Unfortunately, in Oklahoma (where our average teacher salary ranks 47th in the country), many teachers need to take part-time jobs. Does this impact their teaching? Certainly. It also impacts the ability for a single mother of two or three children to put food on the table and pay the rent. Do you want teachers to spend more time on students? Lower classroom size — hire more teachers. And pay them competitive salaries — competitive with other career paths requiring a minimum of a bachelor?s degree. Even nurses (another under-rated career) make more than teachers do.

You don’t want teachers to have tenure? Then figure out a way that a principal in a small town (like, say, Skiatook, Okla.) will be unable to fire teachers s/he doesn’t like. Not because the teacher is ‘bad,’ but because the teacher attends the wrong church. Or maybe doesn’t attend church at all. Small towns — and big ones, as well — have politics, Oprah. And surprise: they affect every decision in a school, even to the detriment of teachers.

Tenure doesn’t keep bad teachers in the system — there are ways, as others have noted, to fire teachers. Your guest, Michele Rhee, notes that she fired hundreds. Many had tenure. And many probably weren’t bad teachers, unfortunately. Ms. Rhee, who once thought it was okay to tape students’ mouths shut?? She’s now in charge of evaluating schools? Let me tell you, Oprah, I teach pre-service teachers, in addition to my job directing a NWP site. Not ONE of my students would think that’s okay.

You can’t fire a doctor without just cause, Oprah — there’s a system. Is that ‘tenure’? Or trying to be sure that in this ostensible democracy, we have the right to confront our ‘accuser,’ and hear what is being said about us. Each year in Tulsa, Okla., new teachers don’t make the grade. Even in the third year of teaching, we let teachers who don’t work out go. Unfortunately, we lose an enormous number of teachers — good ones — who can’t deal with the incredibly complicated paperwork, the overtime demands, the lack of time to do what they went to school for: teach.

I wish someone who knew even a little bit about real classrooms, the heart-breaking challenges teachers face daily (teachers spend an average of $400 annually, out of their own meager salaries, to equip their rooms), had a national forum. I wish one of your guests was a real teacher. John Legend? Really? Come on, Oprah, I don’t try to tell John Legend how to make music; he’s going to tell me about teaching? Or perhaps you’re stereotyping? Instead of John Legend, why don’t you have Pedro Noguera, who wrote a stunning book discussing the problems black males face in the system (The Trouble with Black Boys)? Or Mike Rose, who’s worked for decades with working class, side-lined students and schools of America? Or Diane Ravitch, who recanted her support of NCLB because it not only doesn’t work, it harms students?? And Race to the Top is simply an Obama-ised NCLB, I’m sorry to say.

Why don’t you, with your great forum for change, invite real classroom teachers to talk about what it’s like to teach homeless students with no resources (students or teachers)? Why don’t you ask my son, who recently graduated with a Master’s of Arts in teaching, what it’s like to teach students living in foster homes for drug abuse, rape — both victims and perpetrators — violence, assault? Why don’t you ask him how he struggles to be a “good” teacher? And wonders — daily — what that even means in the context where he finds himself?

If you want to change education, Oprah, don’t make the mistake everyone else has. Ask teachers. Would you have a conversation about the national state of medicine and health care without asking for the input of doctors, nurses and patients? And yet we have left parents, teachers and students completely out of this critical talk.

If you want real change, invite real teachers to your show, Oprah. The irony is that the conversation seems to valourise teachers, saying that “good” teachers can change things for kids. So can smaller classrooms, food, adequate resources, the freedom to teach according to a child’s needs. But then, that’s not what the “experts” are saying, is it? Unfortunately, the “experts” have no real experience with students. Or teaching. Or classrooms. They only know how to tell the teachers in the trenches what to do?

Wondering how in the world education came to this pass,

Britton Gildersleeve

  • Cheveryl Oliver, M Ed

    Well said Ms. Gildersleeve! I am a novice unemployed teacher. I currently work as a substitute para educator. I have been in the field of education for nearly four years either working as a substitute teacher, paraprofessional, or resource teacher. I totally agree with you. No Child Left Behind has left more children behind in my opinion! I feel that President Obama is punishing every child who does not live in a school system which is awarded one of his grants. I have often expressed to others that no actual classroom teachers are included in any of the national discussions; only entertainers, businessmen and politicians. Thank you for writing this letter. I believe it speaks for many of us who love our under valued profession.

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  • Donna Dosher

    I do not have children. I can clearly see the huge problems that teachers face daily, however, the answer is not to give up and just be another cog in the wheel. Seems like Oprah’s guest on Friday “put up” and didn’t shut up. Did anyone see that show? I didn’t hear anyone say that all teachers are “bad”. In fact I heard several “there are a lot of good teachers.” For the teachers that are up in arms about Oprah doing these shows, I say, “Thou protests too much”. There is NO DOUBT in my mind that she hasn’t an insincere bone in her body. If this gets people fired up, well, some good can actually come out of it.

  • AMoneika

    I love it!!! I am a teacher in the trenches and have had the experience of working with homeless students, trauma stricken students and students who are just plain hungry when they come to school. Regardless of the upcoming state test, I have to stop what I am doing to see that my students eat something before starting the day ( keep food in my closet) or they are emotionally ready to start the day ( some come in crying because the parents have been arguing all night, or they are latch-key kids etc). This issue is much larger than “educating” our kids. It will take a fundemental change in the moral and values of this country for students to succeed. The term “failing schools” is nothing more than a politically charged term that both sides use to get votes. It has nothing to do with wanting to help children. Sadly, teachers are blamed which is discouraging to me. Fortunately, my students have perform well on state mandated test so regardless of the name calling and insults from parents, media and the politicians, I do it for the children. They need somebody- somebody to help them get through the day, somebody to tell them that everything is going to be okay before we go on to the next lesson. I may die bankrupt financially (pay is horrible-student loans!!!!) but I will die rich in other ways.

  • anndee

    If teachers are going to be evaluated on the results of test scores, what process can we establish to exempt the results of those students who don’t do well because of factors that no teacher or system can address, such as:
    1)hunger, because the PARENTS don’t feed them;
    2)fatigue, because the PARENTS don’t make sure they go to bed;
    3)distracted, because their HOME is haphazard at best and violent at worst;
    4)disadvantaged through excessive tardies and absences because PARENTS don’t get their children to school;
    5)communication issues, because public schools have children who do not speak English at all sitting in the classrooms, and teachers teach in the majority language;
    6)worst of all, cognitively damaged beyond repair, due to PARENTS’ drug and alcohol use during and after the pregnancy. In my state 1 in 5 children (20%) are born with illegal and injurious substances in their umbilical cords, and consequently, in their systems. You don’t have to be a “crack baby” to have been permanently damaged by low-level drugs like alcohol and marijuana; it just isn’t as obvious at birth.
    Now, if I am to be held accountable for a lack of success by what I do (and don’t do)while I have a child in my classroom, which I’m fine with, where is the accountability for the failure to succeed by what those more responsible than I for a child (i.e., parents) do (and don’t do) while a child is in their care. I am more than happy to demonstrate through videos, recordings, and documentation exactly what I do for the five hours I work with children (two hours of school are for lunch/recess/music/PE.) Children are the school’s responsibility for seven hours (five academic one) a day, 36 weeks a year. And the rest?
    Two farmers plow, plant, and cultivate tomatoes. They live in different places. Farmer Ted diligently works his fields daily, removing the weeds, checking the plants, adding fertilizer (organic, of course) to assist the soil. He has been blessed with rain and rich soil. His crop yields large, plump, juicy tomatoes that Hunts and Heinz clamor to buy for their high-grade products. He is rewarded for his efforts.
    Meanwhile, Farmer Tom diligently works his fields daily, removing the weeds, checking the plants, adding fertilizer (organic, of course) to assist the soil. Unfortunately, his part of the world has been hit by drought for several years. The soil he has inherited is depleted of nutrients. Nonetheless, he toils on, much harder and longer than Ted, trying to amend the soil and irrigate the ground with the meager resources he has. He spends extra hours trying to find ways to make up for the adverse conditions he has to work with. Sadly, his crops yield smaller tomatoes that suffer from blight that was integrated with the seeds. His crops do not make the grade with Hunts and Heinz. There is no reward for his efforts, mighty though they were.
    Is Tom a less worthy farmer than Ted?

  • Brian

    Between the ongoing pay slashing (experienced teachers make more in Turkey, according to a recent OECD report), finger-pointing, billionaire-led witch hunts, and politics-driven harassment, we’ll soon end up in a situation where nobody in their right mind becomes a teacher.

    What then?

  • Andrea

    Ms. Glidersleeve,

    Thank you for writing the letter to Oprah. I too, saw the show and was so “fired up” I didn’t know how to respond. Your letter stated what I was thinking. I too am fed up with non educators trying to “reform” education. Granted there are changes that need to be made, but please do not go bashing teachers. Teaching is my passion. However, I am having to take 5 furlough days and an increase in class size and now this? What more can teachers take?

  • S Armstrong

    Ms McCabe makes clear the reasons many “good” teachers choose to leave the teaching profession and the daunting task faced by those who choose to stay and tough it out. Let’s hope her message is heard, not so much by those of us close to the educational community, but by those who really aren’t getting the whole picture. It’s easy to be critcal when you are only watching from the sidelines but much tougher to win the game when you are a player engaged in the heat of the big game.

  • A foreign teacher

    I want to make it clear with some comments.
    We are teachers, we are not parents and we do not have total control of all factors. We do not select our raw material (human material) as other business do in their first step of quality control; therefore we can not have the same results. Even, we are told how to teach against our knowledge, experience and cultural background but they expect results without knowing the “big picture”.
    I do not know but society in America is blessed with the good hearted teachers that has, they spend lot of time and money on their own. I feel sorry that this country is not a little bit grateful with their teachers. I have experience with other foreign teachers that within 4 months they want to go back to their countries. It is really a shame.

    A foreign bil. teacher that remembers you that English is not the language of my highest cognitive level.

  • JoJo Dancer

    One of the greatest fallacies is that teachers are poorly paid. On average, teachers make more than the average white-collar worker with comparable education when comparing annual salaries. But guess what? The average white-collar worker doesn’t get summers off or the ability to take on a second job and increase earnings over the summer! Then tack on tenure, retirement, and all the other benefits given to teachers and they win hands down. My town has an average FAMILY income of $42,000 yet the starting salary for a teacher is $43,000. A counselor with a Master’s starts at around $38,000 even though they work more hours and year-round.

    Are there some areas where teachers are poorly paid compared to similarly educated people? Maybe. But only when you compare annual pay to annual pay. Compare salaries based on an hourly wage and teachers win almost every single time. The data is available on the internet, but teachers are apparently too busy picketing for pay raises to look at reality.

    Meanwhile, kids dress like hookers and gang-bangers, talk like drunken sailors, behave like spoiled two-year-olds, and continue to perform well below other developed nations. Our teachers are more worried about squelching freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the student body than they are about a child’s ability to read. And their only solution is to put more money in their pocket as if that would fix the problem. Here’s a real solution: use the money you currently have to produce students comparable to other nations! Rather than spending $1,000,000 on a child’s football stadium, how about spending $1,000,000 on tutors and actually teaching them something? We’re not going to pay you on the promise that you can improve our children’s education; prove you can improve and we’ll pay you accordingly!

    • Hard Working Teachers

      Since when did teachers start working 40 hour weeks ? Most teachers on my campus work about 12 hours a day, and at least the same over the week-end. Using my daily rate of pay ($280/72), that equals about $19 an hour. I’m not even going to start a list of the jobs that pay a great deal more than that, but for a much lower level of job significance, responsibility, and stress. Just FYI, teachers

      And summers off ? First, I need to clarify that teachers do not get paid for summers. The salary earned during the school year (which does not include holidays) is simply spread out so that teachers still have an income and do not have to face the threat of services being cut off, and eviction or foreclosure.

      Many teachers do work an extra job, often during the entire year, because they HAVE to in order to make ends meet. Summers and holidays are spent getting additional training in their area of content(s), technology–to keep up with new programs and applications, learning about changes in state and district requirements, or pursuing a Master’s or Doctoral degree. Professional Development is required to maintain certification and higher level degrees are often a condition of continued employment.

      During holidays and summers, teachers often also prepare a variety of activities and learning assessments, as well as different ways to engage students based on learning styles. This allows teachers to improve their instruction and increase their student’s success.

      As far as retirement is concerned, did you know that a teacher’s retirement benefit is often decreased if they have also earned Social Security ? This does not happen in the corporate world or in other government service careers. There is no limit to the number of companies from which retirement accounts/benefits can be earned, nor does this affect Social Security.

  • Nathan Gesner

    Only one post with an alternative view point and everyone gives it a thumbs down. Is it any surprise that teachers would want to hide the truth about their salaries?

    • Not Dancing

      JoJo Dancer sounds like he is hostile, jealous of teachers and very wrong. Teaching salaries vary according to where you live. In TN salaries are low.
      I started out making $6450 and after 30 years and two Master’s Degrees making $55,000. My take home pension after taxes and insurance is $1787 per month. It is barely enough to live on. It is a very stressful job- full of politics. It damaged me physically and psychologically. There is little appreciation for what teachers do for children. I wish I had done something else. I have lots of time to think about and read the news. It is very demoralizing to listen to what I hear. Stop playing the Blame Game and go volunteer or be a teacher for a day. You’ll see the light! It’s a very hard and exhausting job!

  • James Fawcett

    Learning is something every person does naturally from birth. Teachers have to not only make whatever subject they are teaching relevant to the local community but ensure they are delivering the instruction in many different ways. Instruction must be individualized for the student and the area in order for relevance.
    Each person learns well by several different means such as visual, musical, logical/mathematical, kinesthetic, etc. and teachers have to gear their lesson or goals for the day according to WHAT THE CHILD NEEDS.
    What the CHILD NEEDS to achieve their goal of learning the next step is, or should be, the main concern of every teacher and parent.
    To stand in front of the students and lecture a classroom full of adolescents on a subject they have little or no relevance to, makes the process foolish because children do not wish to learn it. Teachers must learn how to adapt their curriculum to the students needs.

    I have also done the math from the above problem, and ten minutes per day times 200 students is still only 2000 minutes. 2000 minutes divided by 60 mins (per hour) is 33 1/3 hours…not 83 hours…use a calculator if it helps or the computer, technolgy could help you…children use these things every day to help them and are interested in the use of it.

    I am merely stating what advocates such as “D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee” would say when looking at the article.

    However, I would like to know how Chancellor Rhee proposes that teachers work their fourty hours per week, plus the 33 1/3 hours on grading, plus the hours needed to invent/learn new skills such as blogging, tweeting, googling, waving, skyeping, and smart boards while teaching to forty three students, each with their own needs, way of learning, functional ability, disabilty, language and backgrounds? Is Chancellor Rhee suggesting that somehow teaching a class, some people have I.Q’s in the fifties and some don’t speak English, has a solution that fits neatly in this package…this one package will show you how to do it and if you just follow it you will be great and the CHILDREN WILL GET WHAT THEY NEED?

    Teachers can argue about pay, or lack of pay, but they signed up for the position knowing the pay scale. Most teachers will never be considered wealthy, or comfortable when they retire after twenty five years on the job. Ask a teacher why they do it and they rarely say because the pay is great.

    Manage a bar or a store and you may work fifty five hours, manage a firm and you may work sixty hours, run your own business and you may work sixty hours. A teacher works for forty hours a week as per the job description, but to be effective they must learn new skills, become life long learners, make lesson plans according to the CHILDS NEEDS, grade papers, maintain building, meet parents, be part of the community, know the student and their families, and above all treat the student as if they are your son or daughter to ensure you give them WHAT THEY NEED.

    Now teachers have to take the blame for not performing as well as expected of them given the situation. Seems to me that teachers are the answer to Davis Guggenheim, the director of the forthcoming education documentary Waiting For Superman. The wait is over.

  • Felicia Fawcett

    In the perfect world where education is valued and regarded as a business needing to succeed this would be the standard:
    1) Any company would have a department that handled lesson planning for each subject and child within the classroom.
    2) Any company would have a department that handled grading papers and looking for ways to improve the grade, common errors for teaching development.
    3) Any company would have a training department that would evaluate and constantly look for areas to help their employees develop.
    4) Any company would have an accounting department to make sure money is spent efficiently and accordingly.
    5) Any company would have a human resource department to be able to assess the individual teacher and hire, promote, or lay off teacher.
    6) Any company would have a I.T. department that looks to the needs of their company.

    If educating the future of our country, the children of today and generation to come, was important enough the system would be run effectively and be overhauled properly.

    The people above have a staff, Microsoft doesn’t ask one person to do everything. Heck Oprah, doesn’t do all her own research, write her own materials, produce her own show, direct her own show, but she does teach many people her view or philosophy without many restrictions. Oprah doesn’t have to grade the audience or their ability to have comprehended the days show either. In fact if she was held accountable for her show she the way she proposes for teachers, she would fail; First because the subject matter was not researched but opinionated, the subject was also biased and not impartial, the material was only delivered in one way and not to the special needs of the audience, and because I failed to learn anything new that is relevant. Oprah keep in mind the idea is to make sure every child is being looked after….not just the select few.

  • sarah martin

    Parents are the best and first teachers students have. So when is a politician going to stop stirring up dissatisfaction with public education and state that high school teachers only have students for 45-50 minutes a day, for 9 months? And we’re supposed to turn everything around? Where is the cry for parents to ensure that students are fed prior to school? That parents put children to bed at a time to allow them to get a FULL, UNINTERRUPTED night’s sleep? Where is the push for social services to help parents give children a safe place to live, enough clothes & enough food? One problem is that students come from abuse, from absent parents, from disintergrating marriages, from poverty–and studies show that all that trumps what happens in a classroom for 45 minutes daily. So until the pols stop harping on teachers and start realizing this is a societal problem–that to improve education, we must improve the life and parenting of our students–our teachers can only do so much. Where’s the anger at poor parenting, or parents who take kids out of school to go shopping? Where’s the finger-pointing when parents lie to the schools to take kids out of school for un-excused reasons? When are politicians going to stare parents in the eye and say, “your child has the education s/he has because you don’t ensure they do their homework or study? You tell students to laugh at education, and then yell at teachers? Where do you get off? Until you value education, your child won’t–and your child will remain ignorant. Teachers can concoct the best lesson plans–but unless the child actually tries, it’s for nothing. Some students in the class will try–and they’ll succeed. Unfortunately, many won’t, and will laugh at the ones who do try to learn. There is only so much a teacher can do to overcome poverty and poor parenting. Until that is faced, education WILL fail. It’s not the school’s job to raise children . . . unless the country wants to install boarding schools?

  • James Fawcett

    Comment to Nathan Gesner about his comment…..

    I am making this about the money because that is what you are addressing….

    I read the post that you mentioned and have to say that it does, as you clearly pint out show the pay scale/rate or teachers in the United States and the source for the information. The article states that the average pay for an elementary teacher nationally is $30.75 an hour. Meaning that if a person with a degree worked as a teacher in elementary schools they would earn an average of $1,230 per week for the forty hour week they are required to work.
    $63,960 for the 52 weeks in the year means that they are paid extremely well for being teachers and having only achieved a bachelors degree, having summers off and job security is a bonus too.
    I live in the state of Alabama. I attended University to become a Special Education Instructor and paid $5600 per semester to take classes and buy books. I did this for a total of eleven semesters meaning I will incur a debt of just over $60,000 for my chosen profession.

    In the state of Alabama a teacher with a bachelors degree start out earning $34,000 and earns tenure after three years with pay rises making $38,500. Ten years later I would earn $39,900 per year. Now if I do a masters degree and incur an additional $40,000 of debt I will make $48,700 after ten years. A PhD and I will earn just over $68,000 a year having spent a total of $160,000 of money (total) to achieve that level of education.

    Either way, I graduate after spending $60,000+ of my money I will earn $34,000 (187 days teaching , 8 hours per day) does equal $22 per hour. Unfortunately, I work some weekends during school time, and 50 hours during the week to meet the needs of the class. (10 mins per week grading papers for a student with 200 students is 33 1/3 hours per week) I average at least 60 hours a week. So by my calculation I spend an average of 12 hours ever work day at school for the 187 days I work (and the rest of the time is mine) and that means:
    I average $34,000 per year divided by 187 days (actually worked days) divided by 12 (hours worked per day) = $15.15 per hour. When you take out my insurance, dues, retirement, taxes, My take home pay is $20,400 for the year. That’s $390 per week. My student loan is $240 per month!

    Do you train on your vacation time? After work? Weekends? For free or is that part of your work? See the police offer they get this thing called over time. The don’t need a degree. They don’t have a small mortgage or debt to pay when entering the job market from attaining there license. They have a very difficult job and should be paid accordingly, but they do make overtime.

  • Brian Puz

    Upset at the teacher pay myths. When your average white collar worker gets home, what do they do? Whatever they want. When the teacher’s contracted work time is done, what do they do? Many have to stay at school for an hour or two without pay to set up their classroom for the next day, make phone calls home to parents, fill out paperwork the government requires to receive funding for our school. What about when they get home? Grade papers, homework, and tests fills a night with fun and joy.

    Upset at the summers off. As a teacher I am required to pay to continue my education to keep my job. The time to continue my education is one weekend or like I did during the summers.

    I have read every comment on here, yes the hidden ones too. We need people to say what they think so we can have meaningful dialog. But sadly, mostly what we will see is uninformed shots at teachers followed by running away. Read what everyone has to say and comment, otherwise you are missing one of the points of education … getting educated.

  • Althea

    Thank you so much Ms. Gildersleeve for such a powerful letter. Everyone thinks they have the answer and will not ask educators for the solutions. Oprah WILL NOT have real educators on her show because she thinks she knows everything and doesn’t want to listen to people who actually in the trenches. What does John Legend know about teaching? Is he a teacher? I have been teaching for 15 years and while I love my job, I have to say the culture has changed in terms of the parents and the expectations. We can’t find the battle alone. And we can’t find the battle amongst all this teacher and union bashing which takes an emotional toll on those of us doing the work of teaching. I hope Oprah listens. I am not home to watch Oprah because guess what? I’m busy teaching.

  • Elizabeth

    Well done. I have often been offended “our teachers are letting our children down’ movement. Of course there are bad teachers, the same as there are bd doctors or broadcasters or bus drivers. I also teach at a university and am frustrated by the students wanting to have me tell them exactly what to do because they don’t want to do anything wrong, sound ok you think but how about the fact that mistakes are also an education. I hear the phrase “I’ll choose this option because the other looks too hard” or “I think this will be easier”. I could go on but I think the system is stiffling our students not the teachers.

  • Theodore

    I think it is great that all these comments from teachers have spelling, grammar and typing errors. Bitterly ironic, and yet not surprising at all: this is America.

  • What a great response to Oprah! I couldn’t have said it better myself. It is so amazing that those who have never been in the field of education, or even in a real classroom for anything more than a class party, can develop programs or procedures that have no relevance to teachers or students in their daily learning.

    Give the teachers a chance to be heard!

  • kinderteach

    I am in my first year back teaching after taking 10 years off to raise my children. It makes me sick to hear people complain about “bad” teachers and talk about how teachers make more per hour than the average white collar worker. I don’t know a single teacher that does not put in hours and hours of their own time in addition to their “contracted” hours. I personally am teaching half time and am contracted to work 18.75 hours a week…this past week I worked 35 hours, almost twice the amount of time I am “paid” to work! Never mind the approximately 30 hours of my own time in August that I spent setting up my classroom, oh and then there’s the $200 or so of my own money that I spent on classroom supplies (that’s just a start, there will be much more as the year goes on). Of course this is my CHOICE to put in these extra hours and pay for supplies out of my own pocket, I am blessed to be ABLE to do that, not every teacher is able for one reason or another. I would love to see a show or a movie made about what IS going right in education, or what communities can do to help or support education in their area.

  • Thank you so much for posting that. I have been teaching for 9 years and now have a newborn son. In four to five years when it’s time to decide where he goes to school, I hope that we’ve moved on from this Reform Movement.

  • Judy Soriano

    We all know teachers who work hard, going above and beyond each and every day. HOWEVER, we also know that too many schools are failing too many students . . . failing to set high expectations, failing to hold them accountable, failing to establish a sensible student-teacher ratio, failing to establish a disciplined environment where teachers can teach and students can learn. Who’s at fault? There is enough fault to go around, but I have a few ideas. Administrators set the tone and expectations in schools: Too many principals (I am a retired teacher who has worked for scores of administrators) fail to establish a high level of expectations in their schools. In many ways, the principal is the most important person in the building. Too many teachers don’t like their jobs. Too many teachers don’t challenge students in “regular” classes. Too many parents value so-called “self-esteem” over a real education for their children. Too many don’t want their children exposed to anything controversial or thought-provoking. Too many students fail to value an education, a free education. But they are the kids; we are the adults. They take their cues from us. The tail should not wag the dog.
    Everyone has to step up to the plate. Oprah has done us all a favor by beginning the conversation . . . we are in trouble in this country, and if the drop-out rate is at 40 percent, we have to take our share of the responsibility and stop whining.

  • Thomas Jefferson

    While everyone enjoys bashing teachers, no one takes into account the home life and the lack of parenting that many of these kids experience and have.

    Someone pointed out, up thread, that teachers only have kids for 60-90 minutes a day and yet get bashed for not giving them the tools to learn. This is right on point, alone with all the other duties teachers are required to perform these days, apparently, those screaming the loudest against teachers, also want teachers to be day care centers, parents and ethic and morality advisors.

    Where the heck are the parents?

    If there ever was a section of people that need to be bashed it’s the parents. Poor home lives, poor parenting skills, poor diets, no restrictions, etc. Couple that with single parents who are never home, homeless families, uneducated parents, etc.

    How in gods name is a teacher supposed to teach these kids when that same teacher is already facing an uphill battle just to keep the kids attention?

    The parents who scream the loudest are usually the same ones who don’t do any parenting to begin with.

    Teachers are supposed to teach, not parent. That is for the parents to do.

  • Come do my job for a week

    I too work for the school district where I live and we face many challenges everyday. You have billionaires and celebrities on these forums trying to say what we do and dont do as teachers but come work my job for a week. come see what I see on a daily basis, then tell me what you think about teachers. Oh and by the way who taught these billionaries and celebrites and Oprah? Times are a lot harder now than they were even when I was growing up and I am not that old.(29). Some students are faced with having to raise younger siblings because mom has to work night shift, dad is not around or vice versa and they have to make sure that the younger kids are taken care of. Does that have an effect on their education yes it does. But does anybody who has so much to say about what we teachers do and dont do look at that? Not only do teachers have to work hours outside of school grading papers, making lesson plans, some teachers that I know and I do go home at night to our own families and worry about those kids that we sent home at the end of the day. Are they ok, was anybody home when they got home, are they going to eat tonight? What about those that dont have adequate housing, clothing, food? The weather is getting ready to change and get cold what about those kids who have to stand on the corner in freezing cold temperatures waiting for the school bus to get on a bus that doesnt have heat on it? Does that effect their education? What about those student who have to walk to school everyday because they dont have a vehicle at home and they live too close to the school to get a bus but yet too far to walk, but they walk anyway. In my opinion teachers do alot more for their students than just teach them. Some teachers become parents to those students who may have not have parents. Some teachers are teaching students not only reading, math, and writing but they are also teaching them life skills, how to survive in society as a productable citizen. Thats what everybody wants right well how will you have that if you keep letting teachers go because their test scores were not good enough. Who going to teach or who is teaching the kids of these people on these forums bashing teachers. All the factors of everyday life play apart in a childs education and as a teacher we are faced with those challenges and still have to teach these kids everyday. I love my job and wouldnt trade it for anything in the world.

  • Rachel Lautenschlager

    This is besides the point, but I have to point this out for anyone who truly thinks teachers are earn a fair paycheck. I work from 6am to 5pm everyday teaching 3rd grade. I go in on Saturdays. I supervise and teach summer school. I spend my own money to prep my classroom. I put in extra hours when I can to grade papers outside of the hours already mentioned. I have a masters degree and several years of teaching under my belt-and I make 39,000, with a potential of just under 2,000 in overdraft funding IF that gets passed. IF. I am so grateful to have a job, especially one that I love. Does it pay the bills? No. I work a second job tutoring with an online company to make ends meet.

    Even with all that said, does my paycheck even come close to matching the time I spend mentally and emotionaly investing in my students? Not even close. I do it because I love the profession. I do it because I believe in my ability to help any child who comes in my room. I do it because I believe I can make a difference. I don’t do it for the money at all, and if there’s any part of me that is on the “pay teachers more” bandwagon, it is because I logistically can’t make my teacher’s salary stretch far enough to support my family.

    Teacher salaries a huge myth? Uh, no. Teachers have always been pretty up front with what they do and don’t make, and if you truly think we get paid enough, I guess that’s all well and good. But while you are trying to fight us on what we make, we are in the classrooms battling politics, awful conditions, and innapropriate expectations to help your children learn. THere’s a reason so many people disliked the one opposing viewpoint.

    And this will represent the 5 minutes per year that I actually spend worrying about my salaray and how unfair it is. Back to considering how I will make my lessons tomorrow exemplary lessons that reach my 3rd graders.

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  • chris brochu

    I teach at the university level, so my personal experiences are not the same as those of most other people making comments. However, my wife has an MS in science education. I watched what happened to her in the two years she was a middle-school science teacher.

    – anyone who thinks teachers are paid too much, or even adequately, needs to have their head examined. Seriously. The whole “but they only get paid 9 months of the year and only work from 8 am to 3 pm” bit is total nonsense; my wife put in far more time to her job than anyone else I’ve ever met. And for the problems she faced, in a rural midwestern district, it wasn’t NEARLY enough. I don’t believe in telling her what to do, but I almost *informed* her that she was now an ex-employee of her school district when a student threatened to burn her alive, and did so again when a fresh new bullet hole appeared in her classroom window.

    – teaching is supposed to be an uplifting profession. That’s how it is for me, mostly. But I’m teaching college students who, for the most part, want to be there. She was teaching middle-schoolers who couldn’t care less. I will not describe what it did to her soul.

    I will not pretend to know where the problem lies. I’m not a sociologist. But it’s not with the teachers – that much I can say.

  • small town teacher

    I’m a teacher in my 16th year, with a Master’s plus 12 hours. Sadly, when the school superintendent’s nephew needed a job, I was transferred to a position in the middle school. Yes, I have tenure, but politics (in big and small towns) are always at play. Did I mention the nephew had 3 years teaching experience?

    Regarding pay, my friend, a pharmacist, makes twice what I make, and he works 4 days a week, sometimes 3, year-round. He has less education and 4 years fewer in experience. I love him as a friend, but when compare pay, sometimes I’m mad at myself for entering a professions where I will never earn what I’m worth.

    And why aren’t administrators being called out. Many buildings have 4-6 administrators (ours has a principal, 2 vice, 1 dean, 1 athletic director)…talk about overpaid! Look into their salaries in comparison to the teachers being called to accountability through test scores. Look into that, and Oprah might have a show I would watch.

  • Bruce Greene

    The letter says so many crucial things that Oprah’s show omitted. I taught 33 years in a large urban school. I now supervise and mentor beginning teachers. I do that because I still believe that there is something called a “natural born” teacher and that there is still much joy that results from devoting your life to the profession.
    I’d love to see a real film made about a real teacher. One piece of research I read suggests that many teachers make 14 important decisions every hour. Sounds about right to me. Show the complexity of teaching a class of 30+ students. Illustrate the many ways students learn in a classroom. Ask 30, 40, 50 year-olds what they remember most about their school, teachers, curriculum. Dissect those flawed standardized tests. Talk to public school students who went into teaching and find out their motivation.
    Sure there are people now in the classroom who are not effective. That’s nothing new. As in every profession, a community would be better served if those who can’t cut it would either get help or move on. Not everyone can go the distance in this challenging profession.
    A final thought: so many current issues could be resolved with dynamic educators developing dynamic curriculum. It costs money, it takes political will, but it can happen, because it does happen now. It’s an equity issue; did they say that word on Oprah?

  • LaRae Gieske

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…for speaking for all of us. Just like every other public service job, education is under scrutiny. It makes my heart sad, but what you had to say was inspirational. God Bless.

  • Jessica

    Well said! Thank you so much for your time and energy you put into that letter. I wish they all could spend a day in our shoes!

  • Bena Wickham

    Why is the answer always to throw more money at a problem? It has always seemed to me that in this country, the media tries to portray teachers as untouchable. Why? Because they deal with our children? All the more reason that they should be held to a higher standard!

    Classes are far and away smaller than they were 50 years ago, (Classes usually contained at least 30 students and more likely, 35 or more. There were no teacher’s aides. Yet, today children are in classes of 20 or so students, with an aide to help, but they graduate with much less knowledge than children in the 50’s and 60’s. And these graduates go on to colleges where the cycle is repeated. Colleges today graduate teachers that are inferior to the teacher of many years ago. Many of those teachers from years ago were in those trenches WITHOUT a master’s degree, and with much lower pay, even adjusted for cost of living changes, than today’s teacher. In my own experience, as a parent of five children, I saw many truly horrible teachers that could barely write their own name, yet they could not be fired — they were tenured. And the cruelty that some how escapes censure would never be tolerated in the business world. One lovely chap had my first grader stand on a desk all day– his reason? To try to make him “complain”. Another fourth grade teacher told the several boys who were bullying my son not to bother with him because he was “a wimp” (that same son became a U.S. Marine, by the way) Another (10th grade teacher) told the class that because my son had four brothers, he must be gay, and then asked him “ARE you gay?” (Not that it would matter one way or the other, but that subject had no place being discussed in such a manner publicly.) When teachers raise the standards on themselves, then I will support pay raises. Till then, homeschool your kids, folks, because you probably know more than your local school’s teachers, and you don’t have to worry that your kid is going to be abused mentally or otherwise!

  • Kate

    While I wholeheartedly agree with the Ms. Gildersleeve’s comments, I would like to take it a step further. Let’s start with the parents and their non-involvement. Single parent homes and parents who work have resulted in a lack of student support at home. These tired and overworked parents are many times too tired to be supportive of their children????? Shame on them!! You rarely see them at the schools… that is until a note is sent home regarding their child’s poor progress or behavior issues. Then all of a sudden it all becomes the teacher’s/schools’ fault! We are so busy looking for a scapegoat we neglect to take responsibility. This “no child left behind” thing is a joke. By making teachers teach to the test, we have failed our children. By being unable to challenge our students to think for themselves and apply the principles they are being taught, we have stagnated their creativity. The students who are passed to the next grade because they meet the “minimum” standard for promotion are being done a tremendous injustice. They end up graduating without the necessary skills to survive. Many cannot even fill out an employment application. And while I am not an advocate of placing a child in private school in the hope he or she will receive a better education, there are other factors to consider. Private schools do NOT have to tolerate inappropriate behavior. Students tow the line or they are out. Parents are aware of this and do not go running to file a lawsuit or complain when their child is reprimanded. The result: a more orderly classroom, and a better learning environment for all students. I was fortunate to attend private school until the 10th grade. With 60+ students in a class (even in kindergarten), you could hear a pin drop. When forced to transfer to public school, I was leap years ahead of my fellow 10th grade students. The belief that lowering the standards so that all students can learn on a more even playing field is insane. Students of all colors, religions, and nationalities attended private school with me. Many did not speak English. Others came from the worst economic backgrounds one could imagine. The parents made a conscious decision to provide a better education for their children by sending them to private school. The difference between then and now? PARENTS were held accountable for their children’s progress. If a student needed extra help, they stayed after school for tutoring. It then became the parent’s responsibility to arrange alternate transportation. If that was not an option, it was up to the parents to provide the help for their child. Lowering the standards or moving at a slower pace was NEVER an option. Children can and will succeed and thrive in the right learning environment without disruptions and a cut and dry set of rules that begin and end with respect. The key to that success lies in the home. Teachers are there to teach. As parents, we need to do our job and let the teachers do theirs. No parent should have to choose between private or public school… the playing field should be equal with standard curriculum across the board. The option to send a child to private school should be based on religious preference, not scholastic. And parents: get off your high horse and stop blaming everyone else for your failure as a parent! I have been a homeless parent.. it does not get more dire than that. But I expected my child to abide by the rules and behave appropriately. I also stay as involved as possible at my child’s school. I helped with homework. And when she got in trouble at school, she was also in trouble with me. Blaming teachers or the school for a student’s shortcomings is irresponsible and selfish.

  • Well done, Britton!
    I’m working on my own response and have a question for other teachers.

    What’s your kryptonite?

    Feel free to comment or respond:

  • Tom

    @Bena: Why don’t we talk

    >>Yet, today children are in classes of 20 or so students, with an aide to help.

    And why are there still problems? Because in the past, parents who didn’t make their kids go to school were not put in jail. If a kid missed school 15 days each month nobody cared. Now we send a PPW to their house, harass the family and eventually lock up those parents whose children are most often the major problem in today’s classrooms. Simple enough, pain in the butt kids are coming to school and required to get an education. The parents on the other hand are not required to care, provide, prepare, feed, bathe or encourage their kids. We can’t fix that problem, but at one time we ignored it, and that is why you didn’t think it existed.

    >>Till then, homeschool your kids, folks, because you probably know more than your local school’s teachers, and you don’t have to worry that your kid is going to be abused mentally or otherwise!

    Please do home school. But first read with them every night starting at birth. Play games that stimulate their minds. Teach them not to hit, curse, roll their eyes or be disrespectful. Encourage their growth and help them to become logical thinking people who will be capable of feeding social security for 35+ years after they graduate.

    Without the help of an active and educated parent, the teacher doesn’t have a chance. No matter how much money they are given, how much planning time they have, or how many great kids that are in the class. It only takes one idiot parent to raise a disrespectful child who disrupts the entire 20 person class on a daily basis to change the quality of education for the other 19. If you want to blame teachers, go work at an afterschool daycare for six months. Not one or two days or weeks. Spend six months every day with the same kids and you will begin to understand the effect one kid can have of the entire group. And please don’t think I am suggesting volunteer work. I think you need to be paid for the work you do and be responsible for reporting to the parents every single day. Volunteering at the school does not make you a teacher and it does not give you the right to criticize. Go work for the school and I want to know how long you are able to keep your mouth shut with out being fired. My challenge would be six months with a daycare activity plan written, turned in to the principal and executed each day. Give it a try I dare you. In fact I would applaud you and maybe then begin to listen to your perspective.

    >>many truly horrible teachers that could barely write their own name,

    Ridiculous statement. How oblivious are you? If you actually believe this, imagine how far behind your kids would be if you would have home schooled.

  • JR Matthews

    I have taught for 34 years. At this point in time, it seems the more I do in class to keep my students organized and on track results in less product from them. Many of them have no respect for teachers, the school, or an education. I agree with all that have posted the facts about lack of parental guidance contributing to all of this. If you want to improve schools, someone needs to talk to teachers. I also recommend that the business people, etc. spend at least one week working in a public school classroom as a substitute teacher. A few days in the principal’s office, dealing with all types of problems will give them a new perspective as well. I guarantee this will be an eye opening experience for the lawyer or doctor. After that experience, they can come together with teachers and discuss what can be done to improve our schools.

  • April

    You put all my thoughts into words!! I too wanted to give Oprah the “what for”, but I had to watch the show @ 10:00 at night–after I had finished dinner, put my one year old to bed, and planned curriculum for the week!!

  • Mariah Thomas-Wolf

    As an administrator and an educator, I am stunned at the lack of compassion and discourse bashing teachers across the nation. This educator’s letter gives me hope. She speaks from the heart and says it all. Good public education starts with students who are supported at home and with teachers supported by their administrators. Without lifting some of the heavy burden placed on teachers and inviting teachers, students, and parents to share in the leadership of schools, then all we have are “top down” experts pointing fingers. Smaller classrooms, better pay and benefits, and more TIME to TEACH and make meaningful connections with kids is needed. Teachers who are allowed to be creative in the classroom and not just follow a script to bring test scores up is imperative. To break boredom, summer hiatus provides a time to reflect, attend camps & seminars, and be with family and peers, money for arts and physical activities during the instructional day keeps kids engaged.

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  • Donna

    Wonderful! Thank you for writing this letter. It says a lot.

    My sister recently entered the field, and she has often said that vacations are a myth. Teachers are always working or doing professional development. The only difference is that you are not with your students.

    I often wonder what would happen if teachers did exactly what the public thinks they do. Would people realize…?

  • Ilene Rubenstein

    Kudos to Prof. Gildersleeve. Those who argue that teachers are well paid and get long summer vacations haven’t a clue. Consider all those extra planning and grading hours (especially in English classes where you have to READ a paper and can’t easily skim to an answer before affixing a grade), as well as the out of pocket cost of additional supplies that enable teachers to engage and excite students (forget about replacing pens/pencils and mundane artifacts associated with teaching). As one of my classes filled with future teachers figured, today’s public school teacher probably makes –after taxes, expenses and hours spent on task–35 – 75 cents an hour! What other profession accepts similar low pay for such dedication? I won’t argue that all teachers deserve to be lauded, but for the most part, those who aren’t effective are eliminated and those who stay are dedicated; certainly they don’t stay for the big bucks. Let’s give them applause rather than condemnation. And, as Gildersleeve implored, let’s include them in the conversation.

  • Jim M

    I’m not a teacher, but I’m married to one, and I agree that teacher-bashing has become a national sport. Public education will only improve when we become a socialist democracy, treating education and other basic human needs as rights, not privileges. More money and resources are the only way out, not only to improve schools, but to give kids the life outside school they need in order to succeed in school.

    Having said that, many teachers and many other government workers are doing okay these days, compared to the private sector. Teachers have job protections and contracts that I was stripped of years ago. Compared to many middle-class professions, teachers are not at all at the bottom of the heap. (My wife certainly is doing better financially than I am.)

    I personally know three people who left (or were fired) from the private sector and returned to school to get teaching credentials. Teaching can’t be all that bad if people see it as a desirable job.

    Sure there are exceptionally bad schools and working conditions. Overall, however, be careful to not “protest too much.”

    I say all this because it certainly doesn’t help to see a website where disliked comments (however knuckle-headed and moronic they may be) are hidden from view. As an outsider, it is harder to be sympathetic when any criticism is dismissed out of hand instead of being acknowledged and spoken to.

  • Barb

    Amen! I have taught for 25 years and the job is getting harder by the minute. Kids come to school not knowing their names, how to put their coat on or how to blow their nose. There is so much I am supposed to teach, there is no way I can fit it all in. The testing is out of control. The media and politicans are constantly bashing us. Due to budget cuts, we are constantly out of paper, our rooms don’t always get cleaned, etc. I could go on and on. I still love teaching and the kids, but the job is definitely not what it used to be. We are not going to attract great teachers in the future- they will choose higher paying jobs- professions with RESPECT. It’s so sad what’s happening to education. Adding a month of school is NOT the solution! Schools need SUPPORT-both financial and support for the jobs we are trying to do. Parents need to do their jobs, too. Educate your children- teach them right from wrong, how to eat, get dressed, etc. Teachers can’t do it all.

  • midschoolteacher

    I am a middle school teacher, and I agree with many of the points this article makes.

    This year in my county, salaries were cut and classroom sizes increased. Despite this, we have had more paperwork and responsibilities outside the classroom than ever before. I could work for a week straight on the paperwork alone, and it just keeps coming.

    Despite this, I love teaching. What I do not love is when a class of 30 children can be completely derailed and distracted by one child who has an attitude problem and is not held accountable for his/her actions. If I call home, 99% of the time the parent blames me for their child’s poor behavior, or promises to discipline them but never does. If I turn the problem over to administration, the result is often nothing more than a talk with the child, after which they return to my class triumphant because they were not punished.

    When I was a child, had I spoken to a teacher out of turn, my parents would have been furious. Today, kids are scared of nothing. Education begins at home, and until parents start holding their children responsible for their actions, nothing will change. And the students in that class that want to learn will suffer because of those that don’t.

  • Chris

    Do you want to know the reason why no one asks teachers how to improve the system? Because we already know that their answer will be more teachers and higher pay. Teachers offer no systems for weeding the bad teachers out, which very few teachers are even willing to admit exist. Yes I can think back and think about the teachers that were my favorites, but I can also think back about the ones who were incompetent at best yet came back each year.

    Why is it that teachers feel that they are entitled to the tenure system? To protect them from the vindictive administrator? Does the secretary at a law office in Skiatook, Okla get the same protection if her boss does not like that she doesn’t go to church? Does the auto mechanic at the car dealership in Skiatook, Okla get protection from his boss not liking his view of preferring a Japanese import instead of an American made Chevy or Ford? Teachers need to realize that the real world does not allow such luxuries and there is no reason that these protections should exist in the school systems either.

    On the count of the salaries, I am the husband, son, brother and brother-in-law to teachers so I do see that teachers put in additional time, but I also know that you all get three months off each year. I work a 40 hour a week full time job (and prior to the recession frequently worked 50 hour weeks to meet my deadlines) and only get two weeks off each year. That means that I, and the nurse used in the writers example, are working 2000 hours each year. Even if teachers were working 9-5 during the school year, they would still be working 25% less hours than the people in the real world. So before they point out that they are getting less money than someone like a nurse, perhaps they should actually be putting in the same time.

    When teachers start producing ideas for ways to improve the system that actually evaluate themselves instead of just blaming the short comings on the students or the system, then perhaps there would not be self-appointed education “reformers” so willing to bash educators.

  • Those of you who disagree with any of the comments evidently are NOT teachers. You are probably the parent who complains because your child is failing and it’s the teacher’s fault.
    I, too, am a teacher and I LOVE my job. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I don’t even care about the pay; I have no complaints.
    Education is changing so much that the fun and enthusiasm that I used to feel has dissipated; nevertheless, I still enjoy teaching. Unfortunately, so much of teaching is not about teaching; it’s about making sure students pass – pass standardized tests, pass tests, pass classes. The TEACHING that I used to do is gone. I now spend 90% of my time with 10% of my students. What about the rest? Oh, their okay. They’ll make it.
    To those of you who disagree with the letter: If you would realize that YOU ARE THE PARENT, not me, and ACT like a parent, perhaps I could TEACH your child, instead of managing a class of 30+ students who don’t know how to respect authority, how to do honest work, how to be accountable and resposible.

  • spats

    When is Oprah going to try a week in the classroom? She needs to try a middle school. AND, she gets NO outside help. She has to be in the trenches, just like the rest of us. Then she can see what it’s really like. Come on Oprah! Could you do it???

  • Elem Teacher

    I did not chose this profession for the pay. I did not look at the salary schedule before choosing my major in college. I knew going into this that I was never going to be as wealthy as say Oprah. I never cared. I went into this because I wanted to give back and try to impart some knowledge into the adults of the future that will be caring for me. It is amazing that people read the words average salary and think teachers are as rich as Midas. We aren’t. It is an AVERAGE. That means it includes teachers who have been able to afford to further their education and therefore have a higher salary. It includes teachers who have taught for 25+ years and have a higher salary. It includes states where the starting salary is higher. Here in NC I started out at 24.000 and starting is now 30,000. I have heard that Alaska has a much higher starting salary. However, they have a higher cost of living, therefore I do not begrudge them that. What the average salary does not include is the deductions for: FICA, State Taxes, Federal Taxes, insurance-my sons cost me 290.00 a mo., retirement-yes, they take my money and put it aside for me because I am too stupid to plan for the future, and any other of the various deductions I might choose. I can’t afford 401K or AFLAC. After all those are taken out (plus my donation to United Way) I have lost a total of 1500.00 from my salary. So while I may make 34,000 a year, I only see about 20,000. I have never begged for money, even when our governor said we can’t afford to give you a step increase this year and by the way we can’t afford to give you the bonus money for making your goals. Oh and while I am at it let me give you 5 days off without pay. And while we are on that topic, consider this, not only am I required to teach but I also wear the following hats: nurse/doctor (I don’t feel so good. As he barfs on my shoes), accountant (someone has to count the textbook, fees, and other money and receipt them), social worker (when a child appears abused we are required to report it by law), law enforcement (we can’t just take someone else’s lunch), judge AND jury, custodian (to clean up broken pencils and erasers), parent (cause face it sometimes they don’t do that job themselves), therapist, computer tech,
    the list can go on.

    Please realize that teaching is NOT a 9 month a year job. I spend my summers preparing for the next year. What can I do better? It is the only time our county allows for day time staff development, to prevent us from being away from the class. I tell everyone that when I go home at 5:00 (not 3:00) that there are 20+ kids in my car with me and they are with me as I eat dinner and prepare for the next day. While their bodies may be in the home where their parents live, I take them home in my soul. I live with them everyday, all day, 24/7. I come home and sob on my husband’s shoulder as I try and figure out how to help this student learn to read, this student add, and what do I do about the student who comes to school dirty, hungry, and angry.

    While I understand the basis for No Child Left Behind and realize in theory it is a great IDEA, I also realize that it is an unrealistic goal. Here we use a system of 1-4, 4 being mastery. Not every child is going to be a 3 or 4. Society needs to realize that there are factors outside of the classroom that we as teachers can’t control, such as bedtime, substance abuse, child neglect and abuse, food availability. All of these will affect a child’s learning. All we can do is give them what we can in those few hours we have them.

    There used to be a saying: Those who can do, those who can’t teach. I propose a change. Those who can teach and those who can’t gripe. I am amazed that the people griping aren’t in the classroom. Spend a week there. Don’t follow a student schedule. Follow mine. Come in at 7:00 and stay until 5:00 and then come home with me and sit with me while I continue to work. Sit with me during my 25 minute lunch where I am not only eating, but maintaining the class’s behavior. Sit with me during my planning that has been taken up with a meeting about some inane topic. Sit with me while a student throws a desk across the room and you have to take up class time to deal with that and then the administration allows the student back the next day.

    I am not asking for an award. I am asking for society to realize that teachers are not the cure all. We can not do it alone. We need for parents to come to the scheduled conference to discuss grades and behavior. By not going, you are showing your child it isn’t important and you don’t care. Therefore, your child develops the same attitude. We need for society to realize that we are doing the best we can with the raw materials and supplies we are given. We can only shape and mold the clay so much before we tire and need help or the clay hardens and becomes resistant. We need for society to have realistic goals concerning our children. We need for society to realize we are only human and can only do so much. And by all means if you feel that you can do a better job, homeschool. I can guarantee that half wouldn’t last a week. And I say this because my sons and I have already figured out that’s a BAD idea. And if you do a better job, go a step farther, get your education degree and join me in the classroom. Great teachers are always welcome.

    (That being said, please don’t read this and find all the errors. First realize I am on a computer and my typing is not always the best and second, sometimes getting the thoughts out are more important. (And yes I used that in my class. It’s called journaling.))

  • Michelle

    So many uniformed, people make comments about topics they know nothing about. The following was published in a local newspaper:

    What do teachers make?

    …The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education.

    He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”

    He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

    To emphasize his point he said to another guest; “You’re a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?” Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, “You want to know what I make?” She paused for a second, then began.

    “Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

    “I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can”t make them sit for five minutes without an iPod, Game Cube or movie rental.” She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table, and continued, “You want to know what I make?”

    “I make kids wonder.”

    “I make them question.”

    “I make them apologize and mean it.”

    “I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.”

    “I teach them to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything.”

    “I make them read, read, read.”

    “I make them show all their work in math. They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator.”

    “I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.”

    “I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.”

    “I make my students stand, placing their hand over their heart to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, one nation under God, because we live in the United States of America.”

    “I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.”

    Pausing one last time, Bonnie continued, “Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn’t everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant. You want to know what I make?”

    “I make a difference.”

    “What do you make, Mr. CEO?”

    His jaw dropped, and he was silent.

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  • Donna Modula

    Thank you so much for writing this eloquent letter which stated how I feel to a tee! I was even more angry that she had the Governor of NJ- Chris Christie. He has been in office for only 9 months and has attempted to completely dismantle to public education system here in NJ. He has called teachers “drug mules” and pleaded constituents to vote down school budgets to “send a message to the teacher’s union”. Schools have closed, countless teachers fired, programs slashed and class sizes have skyrocketed since he took over… and there he was with Oprah…the champion of education…I WAS SICK TO MY STOMACH!!!

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  • Stephanie

    Bravo Britton! I just read Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of Great American Schools, and everyone who really cares about education needs to read it … I am an award-winning experienced teacher who lost my teaching job over a decade ago because I was dragged into court nearly three dozen times by my ex-husband; because teaching is run like a business and the focus is on bottom lines (dollars and testing), although I have earned numerous awards – local and regional – and my students have earned endless writing awards, I cannot find a teaching job “I’m too expensive” and “negotiating your salary down would be disrespectful.” He did not win one single issue for which he dragged me into the court room, but I had to go, and had to miss school, and was laid off … they can lay-off anyone if the administration is creative – something not taught by testing – and so I began teaching over an hour and a half away, in a very challenging school system. Long story short, I kept earning awards, students excelled (academically, attendance-wise, on tests, socially, etc.), but I was getting home late – after tutoring, coaching, afterschool activities, and a good hour and a half commute – and then there were the papers to correct, essays to evaluate, lesson plans to write, differentiated lessons to create, and sleep … I eventually had to get another job on weekends (I am also a nurse) to pay for the gas, up-keep on my car, several severe car accidents – none of which I was declared at-fault, and after either years, I finally got what I thought was a great job closer to home albeit at a cut in pay … I set up an entire English department for a new school and taught for one year, then was laid off because “you’re an excellent teacher, but I can hire several new grads for your salary; this is a business. You know that!” So, instead of retiring this year, I like colleagues of mine, are out of work – excellent teachers, with advanced credentials and awards – out of work because a brand new teacher, without experience, without work ethic, is cheaper, not better, cheaper … yes, they need jobs, and mentors …. And schools, like ball teams, don’t get better if you let those with experience go. Teachers need to be valued and respected … And, students need to be held accountable … test scores will soar if they’re held back for “needs improvement,” and “unsatisfactory” test scores … and teachers whose students’ score high aren’t phased out due to budgets or unforeseeable personal issues for which they have no control. Teachers need to be treated as professionals and respected as such … and school systems cannot improve when they take applications from people with experience and toss them in the trash because, “they can’t afford to pay experienced teachers.” Even colleges are often “adjunct-heavy,” because they “need to save money on the benefits” … I am an excellent, highly qualified, passionate teacher, who misses teaching every day – one of many – but I’ve been working as a nurse, part-time now, because of budget cuts. I am not the only exceptional teacher being wasted … I know plenty. I know many other excellent teachers who were laid off because the whole department was cut, etc. I know way too many teachers who have taken to teaching overseas, because they, too, are passionate about teaching and not ready to retire early; yes, teaching overseas and being respected, making more money, and being treated like they are making the huge positive difference they are. Do you know any other profession without which no other profession can exist? No business man ever got to where (s)he is without the help of a teacher. It was a teacher who got Junior off the rez in Sherman Alexie’s Diary, and on every reservation where I’ve taught summer school … read Ravitch’s book, and know teachers cannot speak up as they’d like. They will lose their jobs; it’s not why I lost mine, but it is why some do lose theirs. We’re losing way too many good teachers … and listening to way too man who aren’t in education …

  • Lori

    I agree with many of the comments posted here. I did not watch the Oprah show personally but I get the feeling it has been summed up here in this blog.

    Speaking as a teacher–I am 32 and I just graduated in May. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a child. It was never about money, if it were, I would have been a lawyer or Doctor. I know what is coming for me…good and bad. I look forward to going into the classroom and seeing the look of amazement as my students finally grasp something we have been working on. I feel their frustration when they are having trouble mastering something, such as subtraction. When one way doesn’t work, I find another, and together we succeed. I know that I cannot change the home life of my students, but I try to make them feel as safe and comfortable as I can while in my class.

    Speaking as a parent–I have four children of my own, (with my first being born when I was only 14) and education is top priority in our house. A good night’s rest, “Did you brush your teeth” clean clothes, breakfast before or at least at school, and I tell them as I drop them off, “Make wise choices..I love you” When I pick them up I ask “Tell me about your day” ” Did you learning anything new today?” “Do you have any homework?” and “Let’s see your behavior/report cards.” If I did not take initiative with my kids, they would not care when they went to bed, how they dressed for school, if they brushed their teeth, or what grades they made. As a parent, I take responsibility for my children because I want them to be successful as adults.

    As a teacher, I expect the same from all my parents, but I know I will not get it. That doesn’t change the fact that I have high expectations for all my students. I believe all children can learn, just not in the same way or on the same day. Each child is unique in appearance, personality and learning styles. It IS my job to make certain that each child believes–first and foremost–that they are in a safe environment and are cared about in my classroom (who ever wanted to do good for a teacher that they knew didn’t care if they learned at all?) and secondly–to make them believe that they can do it.

    As a parent, I have faced many challenges and made many mistakes, but I try to learn from them and move on. I know what it is like to barely have enough to buy what my kids need much less what they want, and we have had to “make sacrifices” on many occasions. As a teacher, I take what I have learned and experienced with me, because I know many of my students come from families with very low incomes. They do come to school hungry and in need of a bath many times. I love them anyway. I tell my students to make sure you have breakfast at least at school, and I provide snacks for them since we have a late lunch time.

    As Anatole France said, Nine tenths of education is encouragement.
    How can politicians, Oprah and the rest of America expect teachers to do their best, when they stand back and tell us we are doing a bad job? I have high expectations for all my students, and I encourage them at every opportunity. This helps them believe someone else thinks they are capable of being successful. If everyone has low expectations of teachers, and they do nothing but discourage us, how can they expect us to succeed?

  • Kathryn Kolencik

    Amen. Well said. I’m a high school teacher – this was a career change for me over a decade ago. My colleagues and I have suffered from a district not balancing its budget well so we have to give up even MORE of our “meager” salaries. Plus, most of our teacher workdays when we could collaborate or receive training are gone. I dream of being treated like a professional again. I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who could rattle off a long list of ways we are treated as children as well. This is exactly what Oprah has done. We teachers and the children are supposed to sit back while everyone else tells us what we need to do to improve. Well I am not a child. I am a well-educated professional with a passion for teaching. Unfortunately I have other passions as well and should probably considering pursuing one of them instead so that I can have my life back!

  • Christina K. Nolan, NCC, LCPC

    I am a long time educator and counselor with two master’s degrees and am currently in an educational leadership doctoral program. I wrote this poem (think Dr. Seuss) in response to my growing frustration with how little regard business and legislators give to professional educators. This poem addresses the disconnect that policymakers have created in not allowing research to emerge that supports a curriculum that is not served ala carte and begs to address the ‘whole’ child. Piecemeal ‘standards’ supported by ‘business’ is reducing our American educational system to a factory style production line that is producing ‘non-thinking’ citizens that threaten the roots of a thinking citizenry. I hope professional educators finally move beyond the media soundbites to help enlighten the families of our nation to recognize what true learning is about.

    Ode to NCLB, AYP and Rt3

    Christina K. Nolan, NCC, LCPC
    (March 12, 2010)

    You teachers don’t know the mess that you’re in.
    It’s good that big business can finally weigh in,
    We crunch the numbers, the facts are the facts.
    Don’t worry your heads, this is much too abstract.

    But what of the children, we’re not asking much.
    To have a clean classroom with books they may touch.
    A book for each child, a desk for their back,
    A teacher that’s fit, well-learned, not slack.

    We know what is best, we’ve made our sweet deals
    Return to your classroom and spin the mind wheels,
    Now drive this fine class, and you’ll go so far.
    Get the right test scores, we’ll promise a car.

    A car is an interesting idea that’s true
    But character counts, didn’t you learn that in school?
    We’re here for the children, please believe what we say.
    We’ll nurture and educate, just give us fair pay.

    A car you don’t want, what’s that you say?
    You’re here for the children, just promise fair pay!
    Fair pay is for ninnies, incentives a must
    Pay no attention to the financial bust.

    This Race to the Top, is Phys. Ed. back in?
    What about recess to play in the gym.
    We think that our schools all sparkling and bright,
    Would lift all our spirits, no really it might.

    What part did you miss? I’ll say it once more,
    The children aren’t important, it’s all in the score.
    The scores do the talking, they manage the game
    Embracing that concept will rush you to fame.

    My critical reasoning says this makes no sense

    I’m feeling distressed and quite a bit tense.

    Children are precious and more than just scores

    Take that to the legislature, the political bores.

    I can see that you mean to make quite a fuss
    You educators just need to get on the bus
    Find the back seat, we’ll steer this our way
    Just watch and you’ll learn how the big boys play.

  • Parent and nurse

    I didn’t see the Oprah show but am going to try to find it to watch. I am hearing from a lot of people both locally and on the net about how this country is teacher bashing. Of course there is some bashing (shame on those people) but as a majority I would say that support is being given for the work that teachers do. Support is being given for the good teachers (you know who you are).

    The truth is that there is no easy answer. No Child Left Behind has put our education system on a spiral to failure.

    My children have had the benefit of being taught by VERY good teachers but they also have the benefit of home education and support for their education. No Child Left Behind does nothing for my children who excel way beyond their classmates and become bored in the classroom. That is a shame. All the same i love and appreciate the teachers for their energetic effort.

    I live in an area where teachers are paid VERY well. Our district has a high school art teacher who makes well over $100,000/year. Most of the teachers salaries are considerably lower around $60-70k.

    As a nurse I make less than the average teacher in my district. I work night shift, holidays and weekends not to mention all summer long. Every day I go to work, every minute that I am there the lives of my patients are literally in my hands.

    My husband was laid off over a year and a half ago. I work two jobs now to, in part, compensate for the loss of his salary. One of my second jobs is working in the school system.

    When our town had to vote whether to increase our taxes to support the school budget I could NOT vote yes. Please remember that I love my children’s teachers and many of them are my friends. My irritation comes when I hear folks complain that teachers don’t make enough. To be sure there are teachers that are underpaid. But there are also areas where they are making tremendously more than average household income (in our town $35,000 annually) whose tax dollars pay those salaries.

    I am not saying that to pat myself on the back but to demonstrate the other side of the story. For what its worth, my humble opinion. Education does need to be reformed. Teachers deserve a work environment that is conducive to learning/teaching. Do they need more pay? Not when so many families are struggling in an economy that leaves large numbers of people jobless for extreme amounts of time. Should there be a cap on a teacher’s salary? Certainly. Should teachers take a pay freeze while the economy struggles to recover? Absolutely. I am two years without a raise. When I complain my husband reminds me that I am lucky to have a job.

  • Mr C

    I am going to lead with a statement in the hopes that you will read on, and that by the end of this posting you will understand entirely what I mean by it.

    The statement is that it is time for teachers to stop getting frustrated, and to start getting inspired.

    Now, you may be asking yourself who I am, that I should dare to put myself on a public forum and tell anyone how to be? I will start by telling you who I am not. I am not a masochist, nor am I an optimist. Suffice it to say that I don’t subscribe to any sort of ism that will not have changed 5 minutes from the present. Who am I then?
    I am a facilitator. I am a leader. I am responsible for guiding the minds of every person who has ever been in a public school, whether they wanted to be or not. In short, I am a teacher. A student teacher, to be exact. Again, no I am not a masochist.
    Every day I get to work with amazing people. INSPIRING people. People doing something that not every run of the mill person is capable of. These people don’t have jobs, they dedicate their LIVES, every single fiber of their being and sometimes shreds of their sanity to recreating themselves as teacher – and getting better at it every day. They are here for you. To push you to do things that you never thought you could do. To make you do things that are hard. To inspire you to be what you can be and to give you the skills that you need to get there.
    I see people giving everything they have and then not being asked but TOLD to give more. And they give it. And what do they get in return? Is it worth it for the pay? What pay? For their efforts are they granted security? The security of knowing they are going to have a job next year, or knowing that they aren’t going to come to school to break up a fight between students or be harassed? Are they granted the satisfaction of knowing that someone sees the amazing job they are doing and blesses them for it? If you ask yourself one question, ask what kind of person does it take to be a teacher, day in and day out?
    Every day I see the most inspiring people I’ve ever met being forced into a smaller and smaller box and then getting trampled on by the mob. And I am frustrated, and I am hurt. And know how it is to want the world to know my pain. But if the only face of a teacher that the world gets to see is the face of frustration, then how are they to know of all the other feelings we have? The feeling of elation at the sight of a student who at the beginning of the year said he hates science because it gives him a headache, and who now has a huge grin on his face because he just had that AHA! moment. The ONE moment of “GASP!! I GET IT!” that every second of grueling thinking exercises and hours of homework and writing that we made him do and that he resisted every step have all been leading to.
    Let us work together, inspire each other, teach each other, and show the world THAT face – and see if we can’t have them all saying together “AHA! I GET IT!”

    A good way to start would be to listen to this teacher’s poem

  • Terri Simpson

    This is an extremely well-written letter. I applaud Ms. Gildersleeve for her grasp of the “real-world” of teaching. Too many people think that just because they have attended school, that they know how to reach and teach children. What a farce. It takes incredible intelligence, excellent people skills and a devotion like no other, all for very little pay.

    I would love to see those that belittle teachers take a classroom for one day. It wouldn’t take long for them to realize good teachers are a gift and those that make students strive for more a Godsend.

  • LaTasha Priest

    Excellent!. I’m not a teacher, but a parent and see where things have gone over the last decade or so and it’s not a pretty picture. I enjoyed reading and hope that people would listen to what you are saying.

  • I have yet to see this movie, but as a teacher I feel overwhelmed with some of my day to day responsibilities as a teacher. I spend personal money at the teacher supply stores and spend countless hours preparing for effective construction. It seems like this movie focuses on families trying to get a good education, but what about all of the thousands of teachers who want to educate them.

  • Amen,
    I think OPRAH should do another show on how the media these days is not fulfiling their duty to report the facts of what is happening in the world. You have news correspondents and reporters not measuring up to par and reporting the facts….They are swayed by the political offiliation of their TV network owners.Give me a break…. Britton deserves an award,it is about time teachers stand up to this recent witch hunt of teachers. Never mind the system teachers are forced to work in ties their hands. The system that is put into place by those who have never taught or haven’t taught long enough to know the reality of it. When things are bad it is always education’s fault(teachers). What about the hundreds of corrupt, inept politicians that make the laws of this great nation. In my opinion, they definately have not measured up in these past years..I think we need to take a very close look at who we are voting for. However, the sad part about it, we have no citizens that are politicians…..We just have politicians. We are forced in the voting booth to vote for one of the lesser evils, not the candidate we would choose. That is sad and it makes me angry.
    Teachers need to be involved in putting a new spin on education. I think those that have made educational policies in the past have proven their system does not work….They need to get real. Teachers that are in the classrooms everyday, dealing wit reality…. They should be heard!!!!!!!

  • Christa

    thank you cynthia! you say exactly what needs to be said!
    thank you.

    • Cynthia McCabe

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Christa. We have to throw the credit to Britton who actually wrote the letter. We were happy to have gotten her letter!

  • Ann Forster

    I am a middle school teacher and I am extremely tired of hearing about how we should extend our school year using the European system as our model. I live in Europe and the European school system is nothing like what is being proposed. First, let’s address the longer school year 220 days. Most European schools release students by 1 PM unlike most American schools that release students around 3PM (extra 10 hours a week). There are no cafeterias in European schools. Students go home for lunch and normally stay home. Neither breakfast nor lunch is offered to the students. School is also offered on Saturday from 9 to 1 (hence the extra 40 days). Although there are some differences from country to country primary school (Grundschule or Volksschule) begins at age six and lasts four years (five or six in some places), a secondary level that generally starts at age 11 (grade 5) and is divided into a less academic Hauptschule (to grade 10) leading to vocational education, an intermediate Realschule leading to a technical or business school, and the academically oriented Gymnasium that leads to the Abitur and the possibility of going to university. Special education classes or special schools are offered for students with mental or physical disabilities. These students are not in the regular classroom. So at 5th grade the leveling begins. Unlike their American counterparts who are almost required to make every student successful it is the responsibility of the European student to lean the material and pass the test. As I stated above there is a college track, a technical track and everyone else. If you are in the Hauptschule your school career is finished at 10th grade. Unlike the American insistence not everyone goes to college.
    European teachers teach around 20 hours a week with the remaining time given over to planning lessons, correcting papers and collaborating with colleagues. In my research, many articles stated that European teachers were only required to be in school 17 hours a week. If students are not successful at the school they currently attend they are moved to the level below. So if you are not successful in the Gymnasium then you are moved to the Realschule and so forth. Until recently European teachers were not asked to modify their curriculum because of students who did not understand the local language. Unlike their American colleagues who are daily faced with IEP’s, English as a second language and every other reason imaginable reason for not mastering the material. European students either master the material or are moved to the appropriate school. In an American middle school a student can get F’s in every subject and still get moved on with the excuse that the “experts” tell us if retained a student’s self esteem might be hurt. In the school system where I am currently employed if a student is retained I must sign a document stating that I as the teacher personally guarantee his /her success the next school year.
    Unlike their American colleagues European teachers do not have to contend with after-school sports, pep rallies, clubs, etc… European schools have almost no offerings in physical education, sports, art, and music and very very few after school activities. In today’s American high schools the focus is almost exclusively on after school activities not academics. American schools provide breakfast, lunch after school activities continually pushing more and more in to the realm of family. American teachers are supposed to feed, counsel, entertain, build character, babysit before and after school as well as teach an academic subject. European teachers are only required to teach their subject area. For this European teacher make a living wage (German teacher are among the highest paid), they have students from 8AM to 1PM, no afterschool duties, no bus duty, lunch duty, recess duty, no weekly report to parents, no mid quarter reports no IEP meetings, School improvement meetings after school parent meetings etc. They have a week off in October, 2 ½ to 3 weeks at Christmas, a week off in February, 1 ½ to 2 weeks at Easter a week off in May and 6 weeks off in Summer as well as all Federal or local holidays. European teachers are required to have well prepared lessons and teach their subject area.
    With all due respect to the “experts” is this the model they are proposing when they talk about longer school year and following the European school model? If yes, I know many teachers would jump at the idea of not having to work 2 jobs just to make ends meet or after putting in a full 8 hours having to coming home to correcting papers and make plan lessons. One final note, the schools in Europe are not crime ridden or falling down. No European teacher is escorted to the bathroom or their cars at the end of the day because they might be shot or mugged. No European teacher brings food, supplies or even toilet paper to work with them. Yet for many American urban teachers this is an everyday necessity. So the next time someone tells you that we should adopt the European model tell them YES, YES and YES!!!

  • Alice

    If you think educators don’t get paid enough, try working in the fourth estate. As a starting reporter in WA state in 2003 I made $12 and hour/$24K a year. I earned two weeks vacation, and worked federal holidays on a rotating schedule. My teacher friends were earning $30K and enjoyed 10 weeks off in summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, a week off during spring break and all the federal holidays off. Which job would you rather have?

    Yes, some teachers worked during the summer to make more money. At least they had the option. There are hundreds of thousands of degree-holding individuals who make less than teachers. Their jobs are no less noble. Quit whining.

  • in comment to Alice….well Alice I guess that the difference is that you chose to be a reporter so quit your whining…if you chose a low paying job then that was your choice. I chose to train to be a teacher and guess what….after tallying what I have had to spend out of my own money on my classroom and on my students (which not only included buying supplies for them but also clothes, shoes, food for families that have nothing left at the end of the month) I have spent out of pocket $3,700.00 and that is just since Jan. And that doesn’t include no cost of living raise for 3 years now…..I would be more than willing to bet that I have put more time in on my job just this week than you have in the last month only to have my profession vilified and maligned now more than ever. I would love to know where your friends work that they actually get 10 week summers off!! Wow! I will move there tomorrow!!!
    I spent my summer tutoring kids for free and oh we only had 7 weeks and besides tutoring for free I also spent 2 weeks working on projects for my school that needed to be done…but hey I envy you your 2 solid weeks of vacation must be nice.
    Everyone has the option to switch careers and jobs… suck it up and if you want to make more money make a change!

  • Alan

    I am a retired high school English teacher. I taught for thirty years, from 1967-1969, got drafted, and then from 1971-1999. The changes I have seen reflect society more than they reflect schools. I saw parental support dwindle, from respect for teachers to blaming us when students misbehave. And of course the students whose parents blamed us for their misbehavior were the ones who misbehaved the most, causing us to spend more time on discipline and assigning detention and less time on instruction. I was an officer in both my local and state NEA chapters and I really take exception to those who say Teacher Unions protect bad teachers. I know the NEA doesn’t. We try to help them and get them to improve if they can, but ultimately if someone just isn’t cutting it, we supported his or her dismissal. If poor teachers remain in a classroom, it is the laziness of the administration, not the Union, that is at fault. Of course, teachers rights need to be respected, and that’s where tenure comes in. In my state, one doesn’t get tenure until his or her sixth year. By then we should know if that person is a good teacher or not. Tenure then protects that individual from being fired on a whim or because he or she voted wrong or has religious beliefs different from the principal’s. Even a tenured teacher can be fired for cause. Proper channels have to be followed. Does anyone think it is all right to fire anyone, in any profession, on a whim?

  • Alice

    @Linda. In fact, I left jouralism to enter marketing and now make double what I did before. The comparison between jouralism and teaching was simply to illustrate that there are many smart, educated people who make less than teachers and work just as hard. To your point about whining, teachers, too, have the option of leaving their profession. Your volunteer effors are laudable, as is my firm’s pro bono work (which includes free marketing support for the school district foundation’s fundraisining efforts, equipement donations – like new document cameras – Chistmas toys for disadvantaged children; book donations and internship opportunities for college students).

  • Larry

    This is so true. Thank God someone is speaking out and another voice is being heard. I am on my third year just waiting to get my first teaching job because while districts cut jobs, it floods the market with experienced veteran teachers. Yet, I keep hearing how we need teachers. Hello? Here in Michigan, classroom sizes are often huge. One school has 50+ kids to one teacher. I do want to teach but not in an environment like that.

    Teachers are warriors and there is rare classroom I’ve been in where the teacher isn’t working their behind off and them some. There is indeed some things wrong with the system, things that need to be improved, but it is so cruel to lay it all the person at the front lines. But teachers shouldn’t be left holding the bag–a trash bag really. Because the state, the parents, the administrators all have a role on student performance and change. Teachers work under the conditions all those areas have provided and quite often their limited and dysfunctional. We need to approach this more creatively and more integrated then just wanting throw teachers and their unions that they deserve under the bus. Because if you do, pretty soon, you aren’t going to have good teachers to teach them because the smart ones would have left.

  • Mary Beth Solano

    Amen, Britton! I was white hot, too!! I wrote about the “one extra hour” comment that just about sent me through the roof! You are an eloquent writer, Britton. Thank you for speaking for me!

  • Joe C. Medrano

    Friday night (10/8/10)I watched “Teach” with Tony Danza–Too bad everyone in the country couldn’t have been watching. It is so pathetic that no one would dare to say, “I’ve been in a courtroom–I know how to be a lawyer.” nor would anyone say, “Sure, I’ve sat in the dentist’s chair–it’s not that hard; I could do it.” and would ANYONE dare to say, “I know what an X-ray looks like, I could read it and be a surgeon.” but almost every parent feels that once they have been in a classroom years ago, they now know what the job entails and they are certain they could do it better. After all, all teachers do is talk, correct a few papers, and collect exhorbitant pay.

    I retired after 30 years with a Master’s degree–Top of my pay scale–Chairman of the Math Department, and my son, with a few weeks training to drive a semi was grossing more per year than I was. How’s that for commensurate pay for preparation for an occupation?

  • JaneDoe

    Is the TEACHERS’ UNION going to SUE for DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER and SLANDER? This movie and the Oprah program clearly ATTACKS the teachers and their profession!

    Would you BLAME the POLICE OFFICERS working in a HIGH CRIME AREA?

    NO? Why not?

    Because there are other FACTORS beyond their control! ?

    Do you think a POLICE OFFICER working in Oakland, Compton, Watts, or East L.A. has the SAME LEVEL of STRESS and? PRESSURE, as cop in Beverly? Hills?


    A policeman friend of mine went to his wife’s Back-to-School-Night. Imagine his surprise when he realized he had PREVIOUSLY ARRESTED half of the parents in attendance!

    Oprah knows the TRUTH!

    OPRAH once said, “Say what you will about the American educational system — it does work. … If you are a child in the United States, you can get an education. … I became so FRUSTRATED with VISITING INNER-CITY? SCHOOLS that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there. … If you ask the kids what? they WANT or NEED, they will say an iPOD, SNEAKERS, or some MONEY. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for UNIFORMS, so they can go to SCHOOL.”

    In foreign countries, disruptive students are EXPELLED for good! They are removed from the? classroom, leaving the teacher and other students to?? concentrate on? their education.

    In America, loud, rude disruptive students are allowed to remain in the classroom, and disrupt the class!


    Michelle Rhee fired the “bad teachers” who were mostly fully-credentialled, older, black women who had a vested interest in the? community.

    She replaced them with mostly white, inexperienced young people that didn’t have teaching credentials and were just PASSING THROUGH the “ghetto”.


    Michelle Rhee only taught for 3 years and DOES NOT have a teaching credential. As Chancellor, she made over a quarter of a million dollars per year!

    Those teachers that from Washington D.C. need to SUE for wrongful termination and for DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER and SLANDER!

  • Kudos for the letter written to Oprah about why she does not have real teachers on her show to discuss education! And Michele Rhee, in my book, is nothing but a cronie who has been given power way beyond her talent or experience – tape students’ mouths? And she is in charge and people are actually LISTENING to her?
    If you want to improve the quality of education, train teachers! Train them in classroom management, in how to teach, in how to motivate, in how to discipline in a positive manner. Firing teachers in the first few years because they don’t cut it is such a waste- offer them training! Offer them support !
    For so many teachers, Dr Fred Jones work, he is a national treasure for teacher training, has made a huge difference. If you had Fred on your show Oprah, you would have real solutions! Not just the firing of teachers
    and the badmouthing of many more but the making of great ones.!

  • Nita

    A good teacher died today. It was not the usual death like: heart attack, disease, car accident or cancer. Her cause of death was due to disrespect and her spirit was diseased with standardized tests, instructional scripts, best practices, stupid professional development, weak administrators and country that doesn’t get it. May she rest in peace. What a loss, she really loved and cared for her students.

  • Tammy

    I have not seen the movie as of yet, but I did watch Oprah. I know that Oprah says she is pro teacher but it sure did not feel like it. I know that the easiest thing to do is blame teachers, as a teacher, I give 100%, what about those other factors that lead to academic struggle like home life,test stress and in some cases the parents, teachers and administration who are not working together like they should? What about poor funding and poor schools not making the grade so they are slapped on the wrist by taking more funds away from them. It is very easy for someone who is looking in to make rash judgements when they have no idea what it takes to be a good teacher and how many issues effect a child’s learning.

  • Carol de Lyon

    Having read the letter to Oprah and watched the show that day, I completely concur that the program was not reflective of the true state of affairs in education today. I am a retired educator married to a retired schools superintendent and the opinions set forth here are shared between my husband and myself.

    It boggles the mind to hear people comparing education in the US to that of Asian nations. China, Japan and Korea are countries that do not have immigration (legal or illegal) as we have here. They are nations that have common mores, culture, values and even religions in an almost total homogeneous society that precludes the enormous diversity of our country both societally and educationally.

    Children are weeded out in primary and secondary school to allow for those who are academia oriented to continue competition with their peers. In the US we believe that EVERYONE is entitled to an education with an over-emphasis on testing and unrealistic comparisons of our nation’s children. Is it any wonder at all why Asian literacy rates are so high?

    A perfect example exists with No Child Left Behind; given disparity between socio-economic groups, English as a second language coupled with the swelling rolls of children with special needs, the legislation in essence is akin to telling a paraplegic child to not only get up and walk, but run. We continue to compare apples and oranges and then publish the results as if the US can possibly be in competition with other nations with the parameters set up such as they are.

    I think at this point, I’ll just copy this one and send it along to Oprah.

  • Tamara Wentworth

    I am one of those teachers. I have been teaching for 6 years. 3 years ago I was let go from my job because the principal did not like me. He loathed me as a matter of fact. Then this year I was cut from my job in my new district from budget cuts. I have a masters in education and my students excel year after year in their testing, yet a teacher who was hired after me got to keep her job because she also taught two electives and they didnt want to retrain someone else.

    I am a mother of 5 and cant even feed my family any longer. I make too much on unemployment for food stamps and cant even pay my rent. I hold 3 degrees, have taught college for 2 years, high school for 2 and middle for 4 and I cant get a job. What is wrong with the state of education. Something must be done.


  • Central Office politics controls the hiring and badgering of teachers. Two criteria are most likely involved. First, when a teacher reaches the 20 year experience mark, the pay scale jumps considerably. The elected School Board and Superintendent would prefer to replace them with a low paid new young teacher, especially if there are personal preferences involved. Ability or being a Master Teacher has nothing to do with it.
    Secondly, Persomal vendettas are carried out on teachers as a routine practice. An example of this is a teacher who serves also as a coach. If any of the Central Office peoples child wants to play ball, they’d better play or the vendetta begins, regaurdless of their ability. I once had a parent/central office person refer to a child playing ahead of their child to be white trash and did not want their child around this kid. As a matter of principle, I refused. I was fired as the baseball coach (following the best season in school history) harrassed on a weekly basis for 7 years to the point of having my vehicle being searched 3 times, once just at the end of the school day. Students walked by and watched them search my vehicle finding nothing and having no probable cause. Board policy required I allow this. I finally got fed up and retired after 27 years. I was replaced with a new teacher with no experiece and the school discontinued 6 pre-med Anatomy and Physiology because they had no teacher to teach it. Roughly half the teachers in my school couldn’t teach a fish to swim but are well connected. This is what causes schools to be filled with poor personel.

  • Kris Christensen

    Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. schools is featured saying what a “crappy” education kids are getting in her area. What a disgraceful appearance she makes. She went for the principal’s certificate and fast forwarded to the top. She wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with my students. On the basis of my own creativity and downright trickery seomtimes, I was able to bring kids from negative street mentality to excelling in art and writing. They never knew they had it in them. Bill Gates may be a gazillionaire savant, but he couldn’t hack highschool. He knows nothing about teaching and certainly John Legend does not. I KNOW WHAT I DID and so do all teachers. Keep on keeping on. They cannot do without us. They just want to keep us underpaid.

  • gjohnson

    This is no different than anything else Oprah has presented. She has come to believe in herself and her opinion and, like many others in the ENTERTAINMENT industry, has sought out and found people who believe as she does. What has SHE done? What contribution has she made? How does she explain her success (I doubt she would include the base of knowledge she gained from teachers)? How does she explain the success of others in this country, all required to attend schools? I find what she has to say as insulting, however I cannot offer trips and cars to everyone who listens to me as incentive to take my point of view.
    I have lost ALL respect for Oprah.

  • David Kinder

    She is right with the letter. If you haven’t taught in the classroom for the past five years, you have no idea of the challeges we face, and you should not be directing national policy!

  • Jay Arons

    What a wonderful letter. As a Business/Vocational Education teacher for the past 31 years I like many others have seen our educational system go down the tubes. We now have to “teach to the test,” and worry about scores. We also have to live by the one-size fits all that everyone goes to college. There is nothing wrong with accountabilty but the way it is being done now is nothing more than abuse!

    Years ago Business/Vocational Education was valued and a very important part of the educational system. Not today. Our programs have been phased out around the country and people do not want to know nor care what happens to the non-college bound student.

    One of the main problems we have is we have elected officials who have never spent a day as a teacher or have degrees in education telling us how to run the show. I mentioned this to one elected official in my state and his reply was I am elected and know what you all need. His chosen profession was an attorney. My reply to him was when you need medical attention call your local plumber because he knows nothing about medicine as you know nothing about education.

    If we want to place blame it has to come from the top!

  • Well said! I think that this letter may cause Oprah to invite real educators (teachers) to the show for a nuts and bolts discussion. While some are waiting for “Superman,” I am waiting for those in the trenches to be included; afterall, teachers are the ones who can improve education in schools. The test score will follow! In addition, the parental and societal attitudes about learning are factors which cannot be ignored! We need to educate parents and teach respect for learning in our society. Teacher bashing gets us further away from that goal.

  • Dr. Glen

    Well said, Britton. Thank you for writing the letter. It still amazes me at how many people seem to think that they can do the job so much better. After all, you just stand up in front of the class and talk, right? They’re clueless. One should also keep in mind that when a job is truely done well, it looks easy to most everyone watching so in a way, this is all a back-handed compliment.

    I have been saying what you are for years but school administrators get frustrated, since many of them are inept or insecure with their own jobs and, although most used to be teachers, when they step into the role of administrator, they forget what it was like in the classroom so there often isn’t support there either. I was forced into early retirement for saying exactly what you did. Of course, there were also those unethical, immoral and sometimes, illegal activities that I just couldn’t keep quiet about too. Eventually, I was crushed by the bureaucracy so now I’m looking for other work.

    I hope that your voice is heard. So long as teachers complain in silence and are afraid to speak out, others will tell us how to do our jobs better. As a side note, my son makes more than I did as a teacher after only three years on the job. He has a degree but not a fifth year credential, a masters and a doctorate. What’s wrong with this picture? His administrators encourage him, appreciate his work and let him do his job. I just hoped for the same. What would happen to us if we treated our students like we get treated?

  • Kim

    Fantastic letter. I completely agree. Maybe having a “celebrity” listen will get the point across to the “powers that want to make the rules” that teachers and parents and students should be making the decisions about how to improve the system. Soon (hopefully) we shall see positive change in education. I think it will be when we see education go to the top of the priority list. It needs to be understood that without proper education reform (and, testing testing testing their brains out is NOT it), education won’t improve. Without education improving, this country will not prosper and will stagnate while the rest of the world passes us by. It is not about tenure. It is not about testing. It is really not about record-keeping. It is about children and their (and our) future.

  • Joseph Martinelli

    I retired from teaching middle school in Michigan after 30years. The Gildersleeve letter is a superb summary of the position teachers find themselves in. I will add that when teacher’s unions defend teachers they are following the law (Landrum/Griffin) passed many years ago by conservative politicians who wanted to protect members from corrupt union leaders (non-teaching sectors). The law requires unions to protect the CONTRACT and the evaluation procedures included. If unions did not provide this service they could be sued.Teachers pay dues and are due protection from their unions.

    Another thing, when critics say teachers should take a freeze in pay during hard times, those same critics are hard to find during economic good times when money is available for teacher raises. In the years I taught, during good or bad economic times, there was never money for teachers.

  • – middle school math and science teacher, Portland Oregon Public Schools, 41 years’ fulltime., retired June 2010. I strongly second Cynthia McCabe’s letter, except I am not an Oprah fan, largely because of the situation Ms McCabe describes.
    The teacher-student relationship is probably second only to the child-parent relationship, in importance and complexity. Shame on the entertainers, stars and starlets, media personalities, salespeople, business people, politicians and lawyers! Nearly every one of these has never worked fulltime, for months and years on end, in a classroom, as a serious and committed teacher. Even many of the “best-selling” authors who were teachers, usually did not teach for long, and wrote only after they left the classrooms, -and got, consequently, out of touch!
    And it is not just like parenting, either!
    Thank you! Sincerely,

  • Jared Young

    I am just a school bus driver, but if the money that had been given to the banks had been given to the school in this country THAT WOULD HAVE GOTTEN NOT ONLY THIS COUNTRY MOVING AGAIN! Plus that would mean the schools could have had smaller class sizes and maybe given the teachers(which my wife is one) help in the supplies and well etc. It really burns you up if you think about all of the “Just Talk” that is going on about better schools.

  • Betty Lou Harris

    I saw Oprah’s show and others that have been on recently. I am a retired second grade teacher. I’m sorry to say I’m glad I am no longer in the classroom daily. So much has changed over the last decade. NCLB has caused a change in the way we teach. It is no longer the “teachable moment” when a child brings in an insect, plant, tadpole, etc. to talk about. More learning took place during these times than some of the recent “teach for the test” information given out. Students are having a harder time with problem solving and thinking on their own. Being creative is also more difficult when it doesn’t fall within the boundaries of NCLB.

    School is not as fun as it once was. No time for special learning activities or exploring something outside the range of the content standards someone else decided were needed at each grade. There is no time for anything except teaching for the test. If a teacher’s class doesn’t meet the standards for that year he/she is in trouble and so is the school. So, before this may happen, all avenues are covered to be sure the student will be successful. But, what are we giving up in learning and exploring when we are only concerned with the items on the test? It is difficult to measure creative thinking, problem solving and independent learning. These are also important for a “well rounded” student who will be ready as an adult to meet the needs of the 21st century.

    I enjoyed teaching a lot but as was explained in the first letter and in many other comments, teachers spend a lot of time outside the classroom doing tasks related to teaching. I brought papers home to grade nearly every night of my career. I made phone calls to parents, stayed after school for parent conferences, spent my own money on supplies and special incentive items. I also bought things for students who couldn’t afford the items for school. I listened to sad stories: my dog died, the cat ate the fish, my brother is in the hospital, etc. and was the nurse, counselor and helper for my students. Then I had to teach them when they could only think about the dead pet.

    So you see teachers are not just a body in the classroom giving out facts and information. In many cases we are the only adult some students have who will listen to their problems and in some instances help with solutions. I know there are some teachers not as dedicated but they are fewer than the public would think. Take a moment and put yourself in a classroom and see if you could handle 25-35 students with the “baggage” that society has put on them and think you could teach effectively. Good luck. It gets more difficult each year.

  • Joan

    I agree completely with Ms. McCabe’s letter. My question, however, is…WHERE ARE YOU NEA? Have you been flooding the Oprah show with correspondence demading equal time on her show? Why did it take a member to do this? What are we paying dues for? You are the organization that represents up. SPEAK UP!!! You should be DEMANDING a voice, a say, a comment. ANYTHING!

    • Cynthia McCabe

      Hi Joan,
      Thank you for reading the piece and sharing your thoughts. NEA reached out to Oprah Winfrey’s producers after the first show (two aired that week — one Monday and one Friday — about education), had a lengthy conversation about NEA’s viewpoint, stance on topics, etc. and also sent info and examples of union-led reform. We arranged for the producer to speak with the NEA president. Also, a California Teachers Association member was flown to Chicago, interviewed and videotaped. Unfortunately they used about five seconds of it. We stressed that our side was not represented and gave them considerable information and video footage. However, the show opted not to include us on the program. As you know, we cannot control what the producers end up using or not using. We have since expressed our disappointment to the producer on once again leaving NEA out of the discussion. We would encourage you to contact the show and express your disappointment, as we have steered many of your colleagues there as well. You can also see how NEA leadership have been active in the media lately, including President Van Roekel’s op-ed in The Hill and on national news programs.

  • Andrea Thomas

    I am a teacher in Oklahoma. I have been teaching for twelve years, and my salary is $36,000 a year. I don’t know where people get their statistics for how much teachers make, but this is my reality. I spend 3-4 hours a night just trying to keep up with the grading load, planning quality lessons, and contacting parents. Class sizes are getting bigger and bigger, and for some reason people think this is ok and a good solution to the budget crisis. I completely agree with Mrs. Gildersleeve. Politicians need to get the facts and consult the professionals before they make decisions or judgements.

  • Melissa – A Teaching Assistant in IL for Special Ed Preschoolers

    I was a better parent long before I became a mother -same premise. Those who don’t do the job, almost always believe they can do the job better. Sad. I work in a blended preschool program. The behaviors we are required to deal with daily impact our teaching. And, we are not able to get the full help we need to to low budgets in education. Smart! (eyes rolling) I agree, teachers, parents, support staff should have all be included in this discussion.

  • I too am a teacher in a state that does not fund education adequately. I agree with you 100%. I wish someone would speak to the issue of parental responsibility and student responsibility. I am tired of the blame being put on teachers when we can not do it all alone. We have students who come into the high school classroom reading at a 4th grade level, math at a 3rd grade level, or worse. I am supposed to teach them to read, write, learn to divide and multiple and also my content subject (science) curriculum and still expect my students to test profficient or better on a state test. My job depends on the students score. I am now really wondering if I can continue teaching as the stress is only getting greater. I have been teaching for more than 13 years. I hope teachers can unite and demand accountability from parents and students alike before all the good teachers are gone.

    Tamara Chavez

  • Greg Van Hee

    (Fervent debate in Minnesota about the length of the school year)

    It is valid to compare school year length in the United States to other countries. It may actually be a determining factor in varying test results, for example, between America and South Korea. (225 school days) However, to find the answer to why kids from South Korea test better than our kids, the comparison cannot be limited to length of school. The issue is far more complex with far more variables than such simplistic measures reveal. Here are just a few factors that may have more impact . The school populations in South Korea, Japan, and many other countries whose students test better than ours are culturally and ethnically homogenous. They confront no costly, time-consuming catching up of students who may not effectively speak or read their standard languages. As early as sixth grade South Korea and Japan begin a thorough system of academic segregation, testing to see who will prepare for college and who for vocational jobs. I believe but am not entirely certain that all our students are compared with just the highly competitive go-as-fast-as-possible college prep group. They do not sit in classrooms with teachers with little choice but to teach to the middle so as many as possible will pass the No Child Left Behind tests so that they, their schools, and, most critically, their students will not be overly punished. They wait for no one to catch up academically. Some Americans may not like to hear it, but another significant variable in the comparison is differing attitudes toward solid, intensive scholarship. There are no pejoratives like geeks, nerds, or bookworms in these other countries. Quite the opposite. Neither are teachers alone considered the quintessential catalyst to all learning. They fully understand that when advanced learning actually transpires, it results from exceptionally hard work by the students also. The idea, for instance, that parents in Japan would whine about students having too much homework is absurd. So, education is not the same in all countries, but it is inescapable that America must remain competitive with those other nations. Yet, today we see schools all around Minnesota struggling toward the best possible outcomes without, often, the full support of their communities and, especially, state. We often make hypocritical, political pronouncements  about the paramount importance of education but frequently act quite the opposite. I believe it is in our state’s Constitution that it is the duty and responsibility of the state to provide an equal and excellent education for all students. Yet, more and more the state has pushed the burden of support onto communities and property taxes as if all tax bases and real estate values from community to community were equal.  I think people should either be forthright about the sacrifices (and not just financial) that need to be part of the solution for solving educational problems, or just shut up and accept the old ideas that we reap what we sow and get the product for which we pay, and I’ve already pointed out why getting that product here is not going to be the same as it is in other countries and is just not going to be as simple as making the school year longer.

  • Linda Kolmodin

    I can’t agree more with this letter. As a teacher for 18 years, I have seen educators become the scapegoats for the nation’s woes. What is always forgotten in discussions about education,comparing the US educational system with other countries, is that in America we educate ALL children according to FAPE, Free and Appropriate Public Education. Not all countries do. As a special education teacher, I invest so much of myself in helping all of my students succeed at some level, that I am tired of the public attacks now directed at teachers. It is no wonder that students have a difficult time respecting education and educators, it is public perception that we don’t deserve respect nor appreciation for all of our efforts to improve our teaching and our schools. It is time for me to get out of the field. I’m tired of being attacked.

  • I support Ms. Gildersleeve’s comments! My husband and I had 74 years of teaching between us in middle school and high school when we retired. We know whereof she speaks and she speaks the truth!
    Thank you!

  • Greg Van Hee

    What could possibly need “moderation” about my letter? I sat here for twenty minutes waiting for whatever action was supposed to be taken and still nothing. I certainly hope an organization representing educators is not participating in censorship. I had enough of that in a “free” country when public schools administrators actually suppressed the message new President Obama had for kids. Come on!

    • Cynthia McCabe

      Hi Greg,
      Thanks for bearing with us. Not censorship at all and your letter was well written and thought provoking. We’ve had technical problems with our server today and I’ve just now been able to access the comments in the past few minutes. Thank you for reading and again, for your patience. Cynthia McCabe, site editor

  • I am so glad someone finally told Oprah! I was outraged to see that show bashing teachers. The fact that she had Michelle Rhee on there was insulting enough. Ms. Rhee had only been teaching 3 years when she received a superintendents job. How ridiculous to compare teachers to Ms. Rhee. Most teachers have been teaching longer than she had so how did she become the guru for good teachers. Most teachers work weekends, nights and any spare time to make sure that their lessons are on point and geared to their students.

  • Ned Overmyer

    Thank you Ms. Gildersleeve for an excellent letter. I too watched the Oprah Show and felt so dejected afterwards being a Special Needs teacher of 24 years. There are so many good teachers that get caught in the crossfire of politics in public schools and they end up losing their jobs because of not having a second area to fall back on if they get RIFed. I have myself to blame for not sending Oprah a letter in our defense. We all should be ashamed for not standing up for ourselves! I wanted to tell Oprah that instead of giving her remaining $6M to “charter” schools put your money where your mouth seems to be and give it to public schools in need of monetary help. There are so many good public schools and teachers out there, yet they go unnoticed because they are not the latest and the greatest or are not supported by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, etc. I was upset with Melinda Gates for her part of being the martyr helping out the women in India. What about those in the US that are homeless with kids?

    Every day we deal with kids coming to school not knowing if they have a home to go home to, food to eat or even if their parents will be there. Is it any wonder why kids have trouble concentrating at school. Teachers have also become many students’ parents as well. I would like to see Britton go on the Oprah show to speak for all of us as teachers along with others.

    In reference to Michelle Rhee, guess she got what she deserved–no longer having a job herself. I wonder how she feels right now, along with thousands of other teachers, including those she fired! Unfortunately, people like her tend to come out smelling like a rose.

  • Christa H

    I agree!!!! I teach 6th grade LA, and it is very difficult. We were told just this year, that we have to start testing these 11 and 12 yr. olds every week to 2 weeks. That is insane. And with all this testing comes data that has to be interpreted, and then I have to modify instruction according to the data. AND THEN STILL TEACH EVERYTHING I WOULD HAVE TAUGHT TO BEGIN WITH!!!! How many days in a school year??? Last time I checked it was 180. We haven’t added any more days, and yet I am supposed to teach like we added 180 more. Don’t get me wrong…I still LOVE my job and my students, but I think politicians should STAY OUT OF THE CLASSROOM, or come actually sit in before making LAWS about things they don’t understand.

  • Ryan

    Amen. I wish the media would quit thinking that the problem was with the teachers. I teach in a district that has many struggling families, and I can’t even depend on my students to bring pencils in many cases. And yet, those same students all have a cell phone in their pocket. If the parents would put education first at home, so would the students. We only have 55 minutes a day per class with these kids. (65 if you add the 10 minutes Oprah thinks will work.) They are at home the vast majority of the day. I personally have seen students go from D’s to B’s in a matter of 4 weeks because the parents implemented some kind of reinforcement at home. I am ALWAYS willing to do whatever I can to help my students, but WE NEED BACKUP! Parents need to stop thinking of school as a 19-year day care, and realize that the importance of school needs to be pushed at home.

  • Tony Danza

    I thought I could be a great teacher because I didn’t appreciate how difficult a job teaching is. Now I understand. I’ve made a ton of money (although not as much recently) so I always toed the lower tax rate party line, but now I understand. Teaching is like acting in a farce of a play that most of the audience doesn’t want to and will not watch. Now I understand. And there’s a test near the end of this farce that the audience needs to take, but the results have no impact on members of the audience, only the actors. Now I understand.

  • Cindy Morris

    Bad teachers? Good Teachers? Who decides? The government? The Media? I will ask some questions of both. How do we teach a child without proper resources because government lowered out funding? How do we teach children when we have oversized classrooms? How do we treat children when you have taken our respect and honor away from us? How do I teach children and teach to all the learning styles when the test is given for one learning style? How do I teach children whose parents are in jail? How do I teach children whose parent was murdered? How do I teach hungry children? How do I teach children that don’t know anything but violence? How do I teach children that have no desire to learn? How do I teach children that are hurting because of just life? How do I teach children? With a heart that is broken, with sleepless nights, by buying whatever it takes to help them succeed, staying late after school to plan, grade papers and prepare for the next day. How do I teach children? To the best of my ablility with the limited resouces and all the demands the government asking us to do. How do I teach children? With love,kindness, compassion and prayer. Yes, we do feel under paid but I think we feel unappreciate. How did you get where you are today, doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalistm congressmen, Mr. President? I am sure there were teachers that taught you and inspired you! I would say that almost all teachers started out with the thought they would inspire and encourage all their student to high achievements but thanks to all the “politics” of education we are beginning to lose sight of why we want to teach. I still want to inspire and encourage but because of the demands of making the ” High test scores” I feel like I am teaching with my hands behind my back and falling forward. Who will catch me? I could go get another job, a higher paying job, but I love teaching and I still want to make a difference.

  • Rita Foust

    Thank you for your beautiful response. I am a secondary Math and Science teacher who has been at it for 40 years. I have seen a decline in education results every year. There are so many reasons and complications. I spend many hours each week on my teaching and my students. Some spend more and some spend less. Each year I find the time that I have for preparation diminished by more paper work to justify what is best for students, thus preventing me from spending more time on creative lesson approaches. I have never been able to rely on the previous years material and have redesigned my corricula based on the new students and the new year. I am not unique. I am not a talented writer as is Gildersleeve, but I so appreciate her expression of my own frustrations. I saw the show, and wept. The cry: Please understand me! I would be very sad to see my own children pursue education as a career.

  • Christina Taylor

    Wow! Beautifully written and well thought out!

  • YoungTeacher

    This article related to me very much. Ever since I was 4 I’ve wanted to teach. So I went to college, went to graduate school- learned all I could about the art of teaching. Then what happened? I was thrown into a elementary school classroom alone with 30 students all day and spending on average 1000 per year on my room. Why? Because our district provided supplies for our students but mid year in fact did run out and no one was willing to donate items. You can’t teach without pencils, crayons, glue. Not to mention the challenge of mastering all of those children, each with individual and often intensive personal needs and still find time to make learning meaningful. I felt all I ever did was assess, teaching came second to assessment. It had to. 30 kids. All alone, how else was I supposed to get the assessments done for each child, on time, each marking period? This letter is very real. How can you successfully teach 30, 40, 50 kids- some who come to school once a week, some to leave for months and return, some with family issues, others with extremely low academics who get lost in the mess…I had trouble at my first job and it was heart breaking to hear that I “wasn’t good” at my job when in fact I was ill prepared for what really was out there in the world of education… handed a curriculum book with what I was supposed to say written in blue, the children’s responses written in red. Mandated PD on how to teach this curriculum… which really spelled out (in blue) what I needed to do! Speak to real teachers to find out what an inner city, or any school, is like. People need someone to blame, usually it is us teachers. For a career I’ve dreamed of all my life, up until a new teaching opportunity arose, all I was met with was belittlement, blame, pressure, financial burden (salary and money spent on my own class)… it wasn’t a world I imagined… I currently am in a new position and am having great success and support, but also am many years into teaching. Thank you for this awesome letter.

  • Christine Cunningham

    Thank you!!! It’s nice to see someone say out loud the things we say everyday in our lunchroom. ASK THE TEACHERS! We have great ideas, but no one wants to hear them. Thirteen years ago I wanted to teach only 4 to 5 core math concepts to my 7th graders, volunteered my time to write up the curriculum and guess what the district said? If it’s not state sponsored we won’t use it! Guess what the “hot” new idea is??? How frustrating…we aren’t allowed to do what is needed.

  • James Rafetto

    Well written but also missing an important and significant and difficult truth. I’m going to add a frustration that most don’t want to address. Not just the generic term “unfunded mandates” or the real problem of large classes. I teach eight sections of 25-30 students and therefore grade about 210 papers for every assignment I give. I also read every word and write back to them. The spirit of the American’s with Disabilities act is good. The reality that has emerged is a tragic and true problem that is delaying most average children waiting for the children that will lag behind. I teach heterogeneously grouped 10th grade students that are Seminar and gifted kids in the same class with students with significant disabilities even MR’s that seem all too often to come up with the magic 70 points exactly on their IQ scores. The increasing number of Fetal Alcohol and drug Affected children with structural brain problems and alcoholic parents cannot be fixed by differentiated instruction in the wrong least restrictive environment. I teach in an upper middle class district and 44 of my 210 students who attend are labeled as having a disability. I currently teach about 60% of the content that I taught 10 years ago and my assessments are easier and the complaints are greater. The students are very different not just as learners but as thinkers. I suspect this is due to brains that are profoundly influenced by technology and an overstimulated external focus as they are out there in their phones and computers and are therefore not looking inward. What is not happening perhaps even something that could be described as a problem affecting a generation is that many students are seriously impaired. Seriously impaired in their ability to do self-reflection and the meta-cognition that occurs from an inner focus or from processing along with adults who have a larger vision or who can guide them to expand and extend their thinking. I need to tell someone even Oprah whom I have considered a health teacher for most of my career that the big and real factor that will cause me to retire sooner than I expected or desired is that after 34 years of teaching I am finally incompetent. Not because I am not a master of content or because I can’t solicit the cooperation of adolescents. But because I now have so many accommodations required by law and with the threat of law suits for not meeting the significant needs of too many students. Their are so many accommodations that I am bound to carry out that I can no longer teach. In one class I am required by directives in IEP’s to email parents an assignment, sign the assignment book of a student after he writes down an assignment, write the assignment on the white board, provide a written copy of the assignment, and have a student paraphrase the assignment until my response causes the student to indicate to me that she understands. I am also supposed to give oral prompts, non-verbal prompts such as tugging my ear, and to comply with sometimes 16-24 SDI’s for 5-7 kids in one class. I have 7 in one class that are supposed to have preferential seating close to instruction and/or away from distractions and right in front of them sits the sign language lady for my hearing impaired students. I have an aide sitting in the back who read novels because the only purpose he serves is to make sure one student comes to class without starting trouble or taking off. Someone tell Oprah to come talk to me and read my more than 1000 pages of IEP’s and 504 agreements that I need to address while if I can keep it all straight in my head if I go ahead and try to find a few minutes or the energy to teach the other 80% of the students. 80% of my effort and 90% of my time go into the 20% of my students who will do the least with it. What happened to the greatest good for the greatest number? Truth be told I am not a cynical old bastard. I am a proud and hard-working third generation teacher who leaves school about 5 o’clock every day. I have a son who has graduated with honors with a degree in education a profession I have always been proud to be part of. I now mourn the dismantling of public education by the media, politicians, and lawyers, and now even Oprah. The Oprah who has challenged many to open their eyes has severely narrowed her focus or purposely avoided addressing the difficult problem that the American’s with Disabilities Act as presently funded has caused public schools. I am advocate for kids. All kids.
    There is a point where equity and equality must meet. The big problem that has has severely damaged public education is that the average student’s have been systematically held back so no one is left behind. Honors classes are no longer honors classes. One additional opinion since I’m stepping into unpopular turf. Not all kids should go to college. If we had any industry we could train people to have the efficacy necessary to earn a living without accommodating higher education to the point where it is meaningless. We no longer have “D’s” in my district. Imagine allowing someone to pass but letting them know that their performance was poor. Since Lawyers now decide how teachers teach and Doctors treat patients. How about teachers and doctors decide how the lawyers get paid!

  • Alicia

    One word is missing from this article which should be at the forefront: EXPLOITATION. It is a despicable, yet accepted practice of school systems & administrators to exploit teachers on a daily basis. Teachers are the conscientious, committed, and hard-working people who only want for our children to reach their fullest, individual, potential… to become self-sustaining, law-abiding, motivated, productive citizens who contribute to our society as a whole.

    Frankly, this exploitation is criminal (or should be), as it is done willingly and deliberately each day we ask teachers to sacrifice their own families (teachers have children, too), salaries, and physical well-being (yes, there is a physiological response to continuous stress created by daily, systemic, injustices). Really, don’t we have labor laws which are supposed to protect from such criminality and exploitations???? Yeah, right. Yet another “protection” afforded every other law-abiding, hard working, citizen — just as long as you’re not a teacher. Since when did teaching as a profession become philanthropy? Last time I checked, such charity from teachers didn’t pay any bills, create more hours in the day for family, or “fix” systemic problems.

    So horribly sad how indescribably true this article is — and it doesn’t even begin to touch what all of this really means for special education teachers and special education students. If only the general, VOTIING public knew what was REALLY going on….

  • Lisa Herbert

    I have become very disenchanted with Oprah in the last few years. She used to be pro-teacher when she started 25 years ago. Now her celebrity recognition deems her the”expert”. The letter written by Ms. Gildersleeve hit many good points but there are many more that could be added. When will the government and those “higer-ups” let us do what we were trained for and love to do? Let us teach and give us the money to do it!! Stop playing politics. Remember, ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher.’ (Not the President, a government panel, or Oprah!)

  • And interview a few teachers who have been in the profession for over thirty years. Every year it gets worse, and we get more blame. Shame on Oprah.

  • Kimberly Montgomery

    I agree with both James Rafetto and with Britton Gildersleeve. I have been teaching for 24 years. Things have really changed. What happened to the days when teachers held some respect in the eyes of the public?

    Teachers, who attend college not just for a BA or BS degree but who also attend an extra year to complete credentialing and student teaching, are not worthy of being considered a professional. Why? Many even go on to get Graduate degrees (I have two Masters Degrees), and even we are not considered a professional in the eyes of the public. We are public servants, and as such we have no say even though we are the experts in our fields. It seems the term ‘servant’ has been taken literally by those in our government who dictate to us how to do our job. I personally feel like I’ve been jumping for years through hoops at the whim of politicians pandering for votes who have no idea what it is like to be a teacher or to be in a classroom.

    I, like many other teachers, spend my summers and many ‘off’ days during the year creating new curriculum, and/or reworking lessons, in order to meet the needs of the varied learning levels in my classes. I love my job, but it is exhausting. Working with over 160 kids, at least 30 of whom are RSP with IEP’s, have 504s, or have been diagnosed with ADHD. I chose to take these kids because I know I can make a difference in their academic success. Another 30 are really struggling because they are so far behind. The rest are divided between the ones who care and will work, and those that don’t give a hoot about school and want to disrupt the learning process of others and my ability to teach.

    Along with developing curriculum to meet the needs of a varied population, comes assignments that need to be graded. I used to comment on the 160+ papers I grade, but do not comment nearly as much anymore because no matter what I say or do, a majority of my students look only at the score and never use the information given to fix it or to carry that information over to the next assignment. I do not enter a passing grade until they pass with 80% or higher on tests, so maybe next term I’ll make it everything, and not just tests, which means they will have no choice but to redo things (or do it well the first time) and pay attention to my comments. Who would have thought I’d have to do that to get kids to do more than just barely get by, which is enough for too many?

    Getting kids to do homework anymore is a Herculean task, and it is never anything new, always something they just need to finish. What happened to the days when a kid would never dream of talking back or not turning in their work?

    Let’s not even talk about what it is like to get kids to THINK. Many won’t even listen to directions being given, won’t reread them on their paper or the board after you’ve read it to them and explained it, and won’t follow them. Then, they act surprised when they are marked down for not reading and following the directions. They want to be spoon fed and given the answers, but I won’t do that. I tell them we are going to “Push through what is hard,” and find ways to find answers rather than being passive learners. They fight it for about the first half of the year until they realize, I am not backing down. Then all of a sudden, many of them turn the corner, but not all.

    Grades just came due for mid-terms. I’ve had only a handful of parents contact me about their student’s progress in class. That’s a problem, too. I have a website with my weekly agenda and handouts and resources, and I communicate with parents via email. I return calls promptly, and yet as the years pass, fewer and fewer parents seem interested until the very end of the year when it is time to graduate from 8th grade, and then they are up in arms about not knowing their child was doing so poorly, even though numerous notices were sent, and they want to know is there any extra credit? Really? Of course it doesn’t matter in the end because even though students may fail their classes, the only punishment is not crossing the stage. They will still be passed on to high school.

    The system our politicians have created has done our kids a grave disservice. We cannot continue to pass kids along who don’t have grade level skills, and NOT because their teachers are incompetent, but because teachers are swimming upstream as fast as they can against incredible odds in many cases. In elementary school, kids develop at different paces until they all start to catch up with each other in fourth grade. However, if students are not grade level by the end of third, they should not be passed on to the next grade. Decades of doing so has proven to be very harmful to our kids.

    We cannot hold kids back without an act of God it seems. Don’t want to hurt little Susie or Johnny’s self esteem. Well, imagine their feelings of self worth down the road when they can’t read or do basic math? If kids, who didn’t have their basic skills down by the end of third grade were not passed on to fourth grade where all those skills are built upon and things get harder, we’d have far fewer kids in middle school who test two or more grade levels below where they should be in reading and math. Let me tell you how sad it is to see kids giving up because they really can’t do the work. So, I,and so many of us, work even harder to assist those kids in being as successful as possible.

    Will all of them end up in college? No, nor should everyone end up in college. We are not all made of the same cloth, so why assume everyone wants to or needs to attend a four year university and get a BA/BS degree?
    Again, we have done our kids a disservice by treating them all the same. “You are all the chronological age to be in first grade, so you must all be ready for first grade”. False! Kids are not widgets in a factory made all the same way. Every child can learn and should be given all the educational opportunities available to challenge them, but we must be honest in admitting that educational opportunities need to fit the child.

    I am tired of defending my profession and hearing that education is in shambles. I’m tired of hearing that I don’t have a ‘real’ job because I have time off during the year. If I didn’t, I would have burned out a long time ago. I work very long hours. I do not just go home when the bell rings and show up the next day prepared to teach. I have meetings before and after school. I spend lunch time helping kids and often do not get to eat lunch. I’m lucky if I get to use the restroom. I prepare for the next day after any meetings I’ve attended, then I go home and grade papers (160 every time I assign something to assess whether skills and concepts are sinking in or not) until 11pm sometimes before going to bed in order to get up at 6am to start again. I am tired, but I wouldn’t give up my job for a higher paying less stressful job in the private sector, either. I am a public servant and proud to be of service to my community as a teacher. I want us to work together to reform education for the best interest of our kids, not corporations and politicians.

  • Bonnie

    This is all a distraction from the economic crisis of our nation- of course we need to be blamed for that too. We are an easy target and it is difficult not to take the assault personally-but we do have a choice if we are going to take it laying down! I have a colleague who works in a Charter School that has no health insurance- if we are not valued enough to be given that basic human right it is no wonder the public thinks we can be treated this way. Stronger teachers, better students, I say!!

  • Rose Hernandez

    All of the above comments can only express in writing what we teachers face daily, but they cannot make the readers feel the disrespect we experience or our discouragement at the apathy of our students,the insanity of political correctness, parents’ demands, or lawmakers’rules . We could not be teachers if we did not truly care about the kids, but it is becoming more difficult to do so without their (and the public’s) respect for authority and learning. If I could walk away from the classroom today, this very moment, I would. But who would care about my students? For this year, for these that are entrusted to me, I must be in the classroom.

  • Natasha

    Our local school system requires a referral from a principal within the school system for an interview. That means NO “outsiders” in this rural community. You have to KNOW someone in this area to even get an interview. When the principal refers the interviewee, he or she then gives the interviewee a list of questions the board asks in the interview. I know a teacher, who told me herself, that she and a friend studied the questions together. When she went for her interview, the board laughed at one of her responses saying, “That sounds awfully familiar!” She had given the same answer as her friend!

    This same teacher (who was a 23 year old Caucasian) also admitted to me that she had worked as an intern at a local housing authority community– all Black children. When asked about it in her interview, she cried about how she couldn’t stand working with them. When she told me this story she giggled and said, “Let’s just say I had never seen children in that situation.” She went on to tell me that her principal laughs with her about her crying during her interview and warns others “not to ask Ms. S for interviewing advice.”

    This teacher teaches Kindergarten. But don’t blame the teachers… she just needs a bigger paycheck.

  • Oprah is trash!

    Oprah should be ashamed of herself! She is always empowering people but now she along with the others of the ed-deformer crowd has put the TOTAL blame on the teacher. If she thinks that, she is an idiot! My parents are the reason for my success. It starts from the home and the values in the home. I love the guy up in Harlem Zone always saying, what the white people have, look at the white people this and look at the white people that. Yes, do not look at the schools the white people go to… look at what the white parents do with their children… how they care for them, how they sit with them with their homework and get them to bed on time and shut the TV off and get their kids extra tutoring. It is the parents and the home that start the value of education and the every day struggle to keep the kids focused and away from the crap messages of music and TV and video games. The death and blood of the teacher in LA is on the hands of Oprah and Gates and the billionaires club and Obama. Obama’s Race to the Cash program and the manipulation of public money away from public schools is shameful. To put the entire blame for their mess, the unions, the mayors, the chancellors, the superintendents, the principals, the parents and other elected officials on the backs of teachers is not only foolish but shameful. What a disgusting person Oprah is and her huge lack of insight is something she will never recover from. I will never take her show seriously again…and think of it as the most of the rest of the trash on TV…not worth watching. Thank God for the DVR! These people have made the teaching profession shameful and disgusting. Every hard working public school teacher should be up in arms about this Oprah show.
    Yours truly,
    (Yes, my students have gone on to college.)

  • Denise Miller

    Thank you for writing to Oprah. I’ve written to every one of my state and federal elected officials and only receive form letters in response. My teacher’s organization seems powerless to effect real change in the 22 years I have been in the profession.

    I read Ravitch’s book and recommended it to an amazing teacher friend with 30+ years experience.. She just said, “It is probably a great book, but no one is listening.”

  • Kevin Fitzpatrick

    Mathematics Teacher 6-12 for 35 years first in private sector and for the past 32 in Public Schools. Britton, thank you for being so much more eloquent than I could ever be about this. All you said is true and even that does not scratch the surface of what needs to be done to fix the problems at hand, but it is a far better start than any advice John Legend could provide. Doesn’t that inclusion in her show speak volumes about who “they” are looking toward for advice? Talk about not going to the horse’s mouth for the information, but instead going to the other end of said horse.

  • Susan

    My thoughts are simple on this topic. No one, including parents, politicians, ‘self-appointed reformers’, or even Oprah (and I’ve always loved her sense of fairness, until now), has the right to decide, rule, govern, or otherwise complain about what we are doing or dealing with in our classrooms until they spend a month or two in our shoes. Truth be told, they would run screaming from the classroom to the respite of their bubbles, which of course is their place outside the classroom/school, within a week wondering ‘what the hell just happened to me?’. Being in a classroom for more than even an hour would no doubt be an eye opener for most reasonable people, and would gratefully cause a paradigm shift in education, if those mentioned above would just do it.

    We are stretched to the limit, students are confused, administrators are miffed, and we are all heavy under the weight of everyone’s initiatives and ideas, that for the most part do not, in practicality, work in the classroom. These initiatives and ideas include but are not limited to, the evaluation process, NCLB, standardized tests, SpEd rules and regulations (this is really broken), GLE or GE’s, Standards, way to much paperwork to justify nearly every lesson we teach, constant changes in curriculum to mimic the latest fad, differentiated instruction, modified instruction, budgets, out-of-touch schoolboards, really out-of-touch taxpayer’s that understand nothing about school budgets (we must revamp this system too), technology integration (which is financially challenging to implement and even worse to do with teachers already being stretch to overload), and teachers having too many responsibilities to tend to, other than their students, and the list goes on.

    As Ms.Gildersleeve suggested; we do not tell Bill Gates, or Oprah, or John Legend how to do their jobs, or politicians for that matter (I won’t go into what’s broken with this system), what gives them the right to think they know how we should be doing ours.

    It would be interesting to dump the 100’s of students from one of our day’s in their laps -we could even give the students to them in smaller groups but continuously throughout the day- just for a week, and see how successful they are with them. But they would also need to first write their plans for the students for each day of the week, post each days lessons along with objectives and standards, write their instructions, differentiate the instruction, modify the instruction for all those that require it, and fully understand each students 504, IEP, and all other disabilities including emotional issues, and cater to each one of them. And then after all that, be able to justify and defend everything they did for five straight days.

    I would be happy to videotape the week and publish it on Youtube.

    Unlike most others in other professions (cough…politicians, CEO’s, bankers, or sports pro, etc) we cannot get away with a simple “I messed up, I’m sorry” and then continue on with business as usual. Our careers can be ruined with one false accusation, or mis-step. Not that this is a regular occurrence, although one might think so based on what gets published in the news.

    As teachers, that spend more time with these students than anyone else in their first 18 years of life, and that have concern for their welfare, well being and education, we must fight back. We truly are the only ones with the on-site knowledge to effectively watch out for their educational future. Oprah, and all the other ‘self-appointed reformers’ should know this.

  • dee

    I have read several letters and as a high-school teacher for the last 17 years, I completely agree with everything everyone has written about what the teaching experience has become. The sad part is that each letter I read focused on different obstacles that we face….all of the obstacles could not be fully explored in just one letter from one teacher. And we are ALL facing these issues daily – and the public has no idea. I have a few issues to add as well- the parents and the influence of today’s technology.

    Yesterday I received an email from a mother of one of my students with an IEP that informed that I did not want her child in my class. I had called her to discuss his 37% average in my class and told her that I was not sure that Spanish was the right placement for him. That statement was based on 17 years of seeing what students are able to produce and knowing that her son was completely unprepared and much more importantly completely UNWILLING to do the work necessary to have a chance at mastering the course objectives. She later emailed me to say that she had discussed the situation with her son and that he was staying in my class because it was too late to change and then inquired about the work that he could make-up or re-do and exams that the he could re-take. I received this email after having her son sit in class and refuse to write one word of the notes I gave to students – on the paper that I provided them with blanks to fill in as I wrote them on the Promethean Board. When I specifically asked him to do so, he refused and did nothing but sit there with an empty desk for the period. So when I responded to his mother’s email, I told her what happened and that he had not come for help during lunch or after-school, that I gave him all the time he needed to complete every assignment (which includes going over EVERY anwswer in class for most items) and that he simply did not turn in anything. Her response to me while unexpected was unfortunately NOT surprising. She told me that I did not answer her questions about what WE CAN DO to help her son and that I only focused on his behavior and obviously did not want him in my class. She complained that my email had included a copy to his Special Ed Case Manager and to his counselor and that I had “bumped it up a level” in her opinion and so she included the assistant principal in her response (presumably to alert my supervisor to the fact that I was not cooperative and wanted her son out of my class.)
    I spoke to the student’s teacher from the previous school year and she told me that he was exactly the same in her class and that he in fact DID NOT PASS her class – Level 1 – and could not understand why he was in my Level 2 class. That is also not an unusual occurrence.

    Last year I had a student that was extremely disruptive – over and over again and not just in my class, but other teacher’s as well. I foolishly attended one of the many parent conferences alone whereupon both told me in front of their daughter that I needed to be able “to deal with all types of students”. On one occasion this student actually took out her cell phone and called her mother in my classroom when I asked her to leave the room. As security was taking her out o my classroom, she was yelling at me on the phone with her mother, trying to get me to talk to her mother in front of the entire class.

    Which brings me to technology. I have students walking into my classroom with headphones in and music blasting. Before every class I have to ask students to remove headphones and turn off music. Students play games, listen to music, check their email and text other students during the entire school day – and often it is their parents they are communicating with. I called home about a student’s behavior recently and the student answered who had just been in my previous class period. When I asked where he was – he told me he was in his 4th period class – in the building! Dont even get me started on trying to contact parents with phone numbers that do not work..

    Teachers have never before had to COMPETE for a student’s attention from influences outside the classroom as well as in. There is n match for my lesson plan against the intrigue of their favorite music, friend or hobby in their ears and in their hands at any moment they choose.

    How dare Oprah’s show not even mention this aspect – it shows a GLARING lack of insight and INVESTIGATION into what is really going on in today’s classrooms.

  • Darla

    What an eloquent letter! I began teaching in l975 and have felt the decline of public education in a dramatic way. Educators were revered in Plato’s day and as recently as when I began to teach. Yes, I believe that students are distracted by the plethora of social media gadgets, but more than that, I believe students are not required to think critically in their daily lives – in school and out.

    With immediate food (it’s not fastfood anymore, it’s immediate), with constant attention to who just texted whom and running from one adult-planned activity to another, we have generations of humans who don’t know how to spend time without being entertained, who don’t understand how to think through a problem and sort out possible solutions and who don’t respect other humans at a healthy level.

    Aside from the problems plaguing family life – another blog, perhaps – I believe the public education system has run amuck with expectations. Faculty meetings are littered with phrases such as “raise student achievement.” But that achievement is only measured on a data-driven test, so that we now compare human beings as we compare prices on grocery store products. With the focus on testing, public school teachers are allowed to use their own creativity less and less, and are strapped to prescribed workbooks and procedures. This is clearly not working. When asked how we can help our schools, the answers I believe in may not be popular with either the community or the school district. School uniforms. Some districts have finally put a foot down about the grinding at dances; have you seen how the kids dress at school? Disruptive and aggressive students attend an alternative school until they understand that being part of the school community requires self-control and respect. Zero-tolerance for bullying,foul language and drugs.

    Teachers and students alike are asked to become more robotic in order to raise the test scores, which will keep the district off the state’s list of schools in trouble, which will please taxpayers who pay the teachers’ salaries.

    More and more people in our area are homeschooling their children. My own children went to college for education. They were both disenchanted and are self-employed entrepreneurs.

    Forgive me for ranting. When Oprah responds to Ms. Gildersleeve, I want to be one of the teachers on her show! I will still defend my profession and teachers. Teaching is honorable, satisfying and a beautiful way to spend a career. I still love the process, the students and the rewards when the lightbulbs glow above their heads. The system, however, is broken and teachers should not take the fall for it.

  • Niel Jensen

    What motivates a kid to learn? How do you support and lead a kid in that process? What screws up the whole porcess? Before I give my opinion…my credentials. I teach 2nd grade. I’ve taught grades 2-6 over the last 20 years. I have 6 children of my own. I’ve coached Jr. High basketball and track. I’ve been a Boy Scout Leader for several years in my church (scout master). That being said, I have some insight into the world of education at all levels both from a teacher’s and parent’s viewpoint.

    What screws up the process?
    1. Unions…while my local is great, the national and state (mine is the CTA) seem to put politics before kids. They soil the name of teachers through liberal causes and tactics. Unions have created animosity to such a degree that I use my union literature at election time to vote exactly opposite! Solution: Don’t force me to be a member. Stop using money for politics. Work to create a national, state and local atmosphere of support for kids. Get out of the politics!
    2. Poor parenting or no parenting. We need to Champion the good parent situation. We need to recognize active and supportive parents way more than we do. We need to reward good parenting and their involvement in schools.
    3. Government mandated testing to the point where funding rides on test scores as well as teacher jobs. I can’t tell you how wrong this is. Teaching to the test is what you get. That is what is forced upon teachers and kids by administrators who have no other choice. Schools should be a positive environment where kids want to come. Many children have talents in art or music,but don’t have opportunity to shine due to time constraints and testing pacing plans. Government needs to fund the school districts and get out of the way. Good parents and teachers should be the ones directing curriculum and instruction. While there are crazy areas of our country who do outlandish things in the classroom, they are the exception and not the rule.
    4. Large class sizes. Do the math…more students means less time for each student to get teacher help. Here is where parents volunteering in the classroom are so critical. Teachers should have time to trian parents to do certain things to help the struggling student. ie. reading skill practice. Some students simply need extensive time and practice to “get it.”
    5. Teacher frustration and burn out. This is probably the greatest roadblock to student motivation and success next to bad parenting. Like any profession, the talent and ability to perform well in a job varies. Teachers must have better on the job training and peer evaluations to keep them motivated and fresh. Teachers know what a good teacher does and if someone is a good teacher. Administrators get to see dog and pony shows. They are ineffective evaluators. Teachers need to get over their fears of being more thoroughly evaluated. After all, improving teacher effectiveness in the classroom by connecting with students is the ultimate goal. Bad teachers need to find another line of work if their peers recognize and evaluate them as such.

    There are way more problems and solutions, but honestly…these are things that need to be addressed if we are to make real change in student education and attitudes toward school.

  • Elaine L Ross

    I’m a retired teacher & haven’t gone through all the comments but surely you know of Oprah’s stance on public education in America–she made that clear when she opened her school in Africa. I haven’t watched her or paid any attention to her since then.

  • Daniel Boeddeker

    Everyone has commented on just about every frustration I have felt the last 30 years as an educator. I have had enough and retired last school year. Fortunately, I live in a state, Missouri, that has a wonderful public school retirement system and I’m loving every minute. And no, I do not miss being in the classroom

  • Cindy Sandval

    I would like to say that yes it is so hard to work with students these days. I am an instruction assistant and I am very close to getting my BA in Education but somedays I really dont know. I work with specail needs and for the pay we get. there are things that we have to do that are far beoned what they pay us.
    Teaching the students is another matter. our student can not learn like “normal students” so how can they say “no child lift behind” I know that they learn at a slower if not very slower pace then others so how can they justify the testing. I think and feel that we should just get back to the READING, WRITING, AND MATH.
    Then there is our pay checks most if not more then half go to insurance. if we apply for assistance oh will sorry you make $5 over the limit. so do we pay bills or buy food is what we have to look at.

  • Olivia Shatto

    Britton is my new personal hero! BRAVO! I couldn’t have stated it better.

    I am a teacher currently on a leave of absence and I watched that Oprah show also in “a white heat.” Such a one-sided discussion– with the omission of teachers!

    Shame on you, Oprah! You should have done your homework.

    Now, can we get Ms. Gildersleeve somewhere on an upcoming national ballot– she’s got my vote!

  • VolAlongTheWatchTower

    Praise God and this woman, Amen and Amen. Now, someone find a Tea Bagger who can read and pass this on!!

  • Jerry van Soolen

    My wife of 5 years is a chemistry teacher. I see the enormous amount of work that she does. The continuing education to go along with keeping her teaching certificate ( I’ve wondered if I’ll see her other than bed time and morning ).
    Last 5 years her class sizes have been between 190 and 210, (upwards to 36-42 per class period).

    I am an Electrician, and make a good wage, but teachers DON’T. Why anyone would want to teach is beyond me. They are ridiculed, disrespected, under paid, over worked. My wife is at school from before 6;30 am and has been know to stay past 9:00pm. She is also the Robotics advisor and sets up for fund raisers and such so that her students can participate in competition.

    I could go on and on, but people want or don’t want their kids to be educated, if they do ,JUMP IN an ASSIST YOUR CHILD get their education.


  • ZenKat

    Loved Britton’s response and response of many others though I did not read each one

    My radar came alert when I read some of Oprah’s guests, many who support private or charter schools which does nothing to help students or teachers in public schools. For two years I have continued to worked as an ESP although I am certified as a special education teacher. Many of my peers have been RID’d or transfered. I was transferred the school I work at does not utilize my skills in special education or technology (but it is a job in a state hit hard by economics).

    Oprah’s is welcome to the western suburbs. She can bring her guests and see if they still will talk of poor teachers. Free education is guaranteed by the law; let’s make certain it isn’t substandard.


  • Mike Henasey

    I am a high school science teacher. We have a very diverse student population. Until the culture these kids come out of changes,these so called experts aren’t going to change a thing. Of course they really have no idea what goes on in the classroom.

  • jim roche

    Ah Oprah,

    As Murphy says “nothing’s impossible for the person that doesn’t have to do it”. The extreme right of the US won’t quit until they have dismantled collective bargining in America. Brilliantly, they are using the left to do it with celebrities, charter schools, vouchers, politicians etc., all designed to bleed the public school systems dry while discounting and discrediting one of the most highly trained, tested, certified, CORI checked, vertically integrated, professionally developed and yes constantly audited and relicensed professions in America. If there are still slackers in the profession it’s getting harder and harder to hide. Trust me.

    But ignorance is bliss. Education is the new “cash cow” in America and will be exploited by every shyster with a “connection” further draining the much needed revenues to deal with students that are over crowded, tested senseless, sometimes hungry and abused or neglected and made to sit for 7.5 hours studying primarily math and language arts in order to pass unpassable tests that are created by the shysters and are designed to prove a point; the schools are constantly failing and the teachers are the problem. I can create a test that no student can pass if my point is to prove that they are uneducated and the system is failing.

    Really Oprah, if you care to get at the truth you would discover the following recipe for successful schools in America by simply asking those who teach. I bet the ingredients would include the following,

    * reduce class sizes
    * hire more teachers and teacher aides
    * demand more parent involement
    * create seperate schools for chronic behavior problems
    * require the same accountability from charter schools
    * allow teacher evaluations of principals
    * did I mention reducing class sizes
    * bring back art, music, gym, tech ed, the stuff kids come to school for
    * let our kids have more than 20 minutes for lunch (bell to bell) they’re kids Oprah, they need to play a little. Remember?
    * make our schools function as girls and boys clubs so kids have a safe haven when the school day’s done and provide extra income for teachers who usually have two jobs to make ends meet. If you haven’t noticed the schools are perfectly designed to provide this service to the communities
    * did I mention smaller class sizes
    * state wide education tax vs. local property tax to equitably fund and balance the playing field between rich and poor communities

    Ah Oprah, but this list requires commitment from our communities mainly in the form of revenue and time from parents and politicians. Given the ugly mood of the American public it appears to be easier to not be confused by the facts and live in vitriolic ignorance.
    Sadly Oprah they have duped you into leading the charge. Shame on you.

  • Diana Kraft

    Thank you for saying it fully and eloquently. I was one of those teachers who wrote in. It is sooo important for a national voice like Oprah’s to get it right. It hurt deeply that she allowed the show to air. She was very mis-guided. Wouldn’t we all love to have her voice to tell the truth about what studetns in this country need. I say we keep writing until she recognizes and understands the need. I agree, she’s a good person but she needs a few teacher angels to help her get it right.

  • Q

    Thank you! Please listen to her Oprah she is right. How about NTLB No Teacher Left Behind?

  • The media is engaged in smoke and mirrors with the government, whose lack of action and vision has and contiunes to allow poverty; unenforced laws about drugs and alcohol abuse by adults and teens that goes unchecked; the epidemic pockets of neglect and abuse of children of all races-color-creeds goes unchecked by government agencies even when reported by school officals. Plain and simple taechers do the best they can in a society that reflects the social norms of that time.

    Teachers have prepared and taught lessons across the board to the same children on the same day from the beginning entry day of a primary age program throughout a secondary educational program. In other words-same kids, same lessons, same scope and sequence of the academic expectations. Free will and circumstances beyond the control of the child and educators then impacts the learning rate and levels achieved due to society and parental impact or disruptions to a family related to economic factors. (E.g.-lost job; out sourced work to oversea globalism, reorganization in the markertplace, etc)

    How and why does Oprah, the government and private sector business leaders think a frontline, under-paid, over worked teacher is responsible for the things they are in charge of? Out of those classes with uniform lessons and orderly progression come the lawyers, doctors and professionals of the business world and politicians. So what factors created opportunity while other classmates fell short of mandated accountability they fail to fund through grants and legislation/taxees? Some students have support systems while others have a lifetime of obstacles starting in the home enviroment of both groups. Some peole value education and others do not. In the universal scheme of things the countries above the USA -most of the world-the society has chosen to RESPECT educators at all levels-parents/family; government leaders and business partners. The free will to choose an education or a life of hard knocks starts early in life and at home. President Obama was quick to share his story of a young mother getting him up to work with him to read. Well-get the picture America and Mr. President-you have realize the parent is the lifetime teacher here. Public and private school educators fascilitate learning environments, we do not serve as the parent figure due to enequities of birth. Open your eyes to the reality of a society of haves and have nots who make personal choices to succeed through education or not care to be educated. Role models are important but by the time children reach school settings the lifestyles from birth to 5 and in following years from the home and media market place shape the child.

    As a “sputnik child” of the 50-60s science and math were emphasized, but so was the fact that my parents expected me to learn and the teacher need not call home to report I was being disruptive to my education or the children in the room, who had parents wanting their child to be educated. ATTITUDE of learned helplessness rules in America. If I am not able to work hard enough or sacrifice time to make my child succeed then blame the teacher. As Charles Barkley said, “I am not a role model.” Many parents today feel the same way-it is not their resposnibility or role to teach and install values in children. (E.g.-You schools do something about bullying. Schools do not teach those behaviors, so where are they learning the mentality of bullying? Home or streets?) Lots of blame to go around but it is time to stop making educators the scapegoats for the ills of society and lives impacted by poor choices and bad judgment.

  • Julie Cordle

    What happen to teaching for learning?

  • Sharon Oelke

    AMEN to all the positive comments & constructive suggestions to improve education. But once again, who is reading them – we, teachers. Soooo sad ~ we have answers but there not the same for every state, county, district, child. There is no one size fits all program to educate every student ~ that’s what dedicated teachers do everyday! Maybe someday, they, whoever they are, will listen to those of us who have been in the trenches.

  • Angie

    Dear Oprah, I am a teacher in a low socioeconomic area. I challenge you to teach my kids for one day, then the world can merit pay me. BUT before you do I should be allowed to chose the following: because all these things will affect my test scores. I want to pick my students, I want to pick only the ones with parents who support us & work with their kids on their homework, then I want to pick the curriculum & the assessments, I also want to be in charge of how much sleep they get every night & their nutrition, I also only want kids that have had the best teachers prior to coming into my class, I do not want any english learners, or kids from broken homes, no behavior problems, emotional problems, or learning disabilities, and no drug babies please. I think that does it. If education does not change who will be there for my kids. NO ONE will work in low socioeconomic areas with challenging students. I wish you could come & see the harm no child left behind is having on my kids…………. AP

  • Hooray for Ms. Gildersleeve and all those who elaborated on all those who commented on the reality of teaching in the classroom today. Because of the “no Win” situation that all these teachers enter every day of their working lives and worse, students with no choice enter every day from k-12, I homeschool my children.

    I taught for 13 years in the public system before I stayed home and admitted the hard truth to myself and family that whatever I could do would not improve the situation to anything comparable to tolerable for my children. I could do all the political organizing, harranguing the school board, contacting teachers, etc. and my children would still receive a crappy education. Until the political reality of our country changes and public education truly can offer that step up to success that used to be the rule for poor and rich alike, nothing teachers or parents can do will change the reality that the schools are just an extension of economic injustice and inequity that exist all over in our society.

    That choice for my family has provided a fantastic education, present and involved parenting for both of my children, and the contribution of two morally and academically educated young people who will be productive members of our society. I do what I can do for success, be the best parent and teacher I can possibly be.


  • Tania

    Thank you…We need more people who will stand up and defend the hard work of teachers. I have taught for 22 years and on average I spend $1000.00 a year on my class. I would like to know what other person spends their own money on their job. Yes my work day is 9 to 3:30, but I arrive by 7 and leave at 5. It is Friday, and I have an over sized bag of work I have brought home with me to work on over the weekend. Again I ask, what other person spends 3 to 4 hours extra a day at their job without getting over-time and brings work home with them over the weekend? My school year begins the day after Labor day and ends the last week in June, yet every year for the past 20+ years I have spent a month of my summer vacation (UNPAID) working in my classroom. Furthermore, for the last 10 years I have done that with 4 of my children, who are forced to give up their summer vacation so I can get work done in my classroom. In all my years of teaching I can honestly say, we are a group of dedicated professionals who place our children first. I truly believe the success of a child involves a trinity between a child, parent, and a teacher. If you take away one of these factors, you take away that child’s chance at success. What is wrong with education today is that there is a loss of the value of education. Each year I have at least one ESL child in my class. By the end of the school year, these children are speaking English, they have their homework ready, and are attentive in class. Their parents have taught their children the value of an American education. They want to learn and succeed and I know they will. Now we need our parents, our leaders, and everyone in our society to support education and the role teachers have in making the difference in the life of a child!

  • Marguerite Foster Franklin

    Well,Britton basicly said it all. She touched on very basic an extremely important facts that educators face every year.

  • Christine

    Well said, though I don’t agree w/the issue of tenure. After being in the profession for 10 years (4 in my most recent district) and being laid off last year, it pains me to see some of the so-called “educators” that can never be laid off because of tenure. It’s an antiquated system that needs to change. Maybe if teachers knew that when lay offs came around each year that every teacher had an equal chance of being let go and that it was going to be based on one’s performance rather than years of service, some teachers would step up their performance.

  • Tobey Beaman

    I am a dedicated Oprah fan! I love what whe has done for American women. But this one has really turned me off. I’m a 46-year old first year teacher. I left my lucrative position in an auto factory to pursue my lifelong dream of teaching. Three years later I got a job! I am a kindergarten teacher, and my idol has made me into the nation enemy. I don’t understand!

  • Laurie

    Oprah, come on in and teach a class for a semester…try 3rd grade or kindergarten. And you can have my pay! Do it w/o cameras…just be you! Keep them entertained, enriched, enlightened and ON TASK…FOCUSED…!

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this letter. It was very well written, clearly stated what was wrong and did not add insult to anyone.

  • I agree with most everything said by Ms. Gildersleeve. Education has turned into an assembly line with the state demanding that it should not be one. At every juncture, teachers are given orders, stripped of all preparation time, sent out to ridiculous professional development antics, forced to sit in useless staff meetings that consist of speeches from the current dictator, scheduled longer than any classroom period, made to endure double cuts in pay that bring many closer to homelessness themselves, since teachers do not make $9000 per month or more, as most principals earn. One principal’s salary is equal to two solid teacher assignments. Yet the principals are rarely in school, called away to retreats, meetings with gourmet coffee and catering, make an appearance while giving a few announcements, usually interrupting any hopes of quality teaching time, leaving inept vice principals in charge, that rarely want to assist teachers when discipline issues arise, so they blame the teacher for having them in the first place, then go about their business of not working. The district and school board both have people working that have not seen a classroom since high school. Just think, they are dictating what teachers can and cannot do! Clicks abound in school sites that prevent good teachers from becoming great ones. They don’t have the right cultural background, they don’t live in the right city, etc. Yet principals are assigned to sites that have cultures they do not relate well even more. This causes gaps in true leadership that result in student body tension, staff shifts that align the established clicks, quickly aligned with the current administration, as the outsiders or newbies, simply become isolated sub groups of disappearing effort, with a loss of hope for improvement. The kids lose in the end. Teachers are like the baseball in a baseball game. They take all the hits and get no credit for winning the game, they just get replaced when they wear out! Tell us teachers more of what we do wrong, it helps the students so much! Rather, tell the parents to get their kids to bed on time, to school on time, do their homework at home, take a serious interest in their education, stop bribing them with electronics that will not even help them if they want to work at jack in the Box. Tell the parents to stop fighting in the presence of their kids, stop taking drugs, drinking and smoking around their kids. Tell them to do the laundry once in a while, buy a pencil or two for their kids. Give their kids a place to study at home, with lights! Have their eyes and ears checked. give them a good breakfast instead of pop tarts. pass up the candy and ice cream isles. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, just one caring parent!

  • Kathy

    I am in my eighth year as a teacher and your letter speaks volumes. I chose this profession at age 37 and it is my passion. I too have serious concerns that our profession is bashed and being held responsible for all the struggles our young people are facing today. We are only part of the team to support these kiddos success. Until parents, teachers and students all take ownership, moving forward is quite a challenge.
    Stop pointing fingers at educators and let’s work together to gather the tools to create successful environments for our precious children.

  • Adam

    Why does anyone take Oprah so seriously? She’s a self-promoting, self-centered annoying pain who stole Phil Donague’s act. She hasn’t done anything on her own initiative and is more a circus clown than someone to take seriously.

  • For the first time in many months I feel like I want to find all these other teachers and sit and talk with them! I have felt so overwhelmed and underappreciated for so long! I teach alternative high school. I get all the kids from 7-12th grades that have been expelled from our middle and high schools as well as those who have been in jail and are being released and want to try to work their way back to a traditional school in our district. Lets talk challenges…I love my coworkers and my administrator! there are only 4 teachers on our staff a principal and a secretary but somehow we make it work in a large district that only uses us as a cash cow. We have held student workday saturdays to beautify our little crappy campus and there are times we find ourselves making lunches because for some reason the district failed to deliver ontime for our kids to eat and when they do the food they get is terrible and the amounts are for early elementary age because its “too much work” for the district to find an alternative way to offer our site real meals. So I truly understand fighting for our kids! There are days I leave and just sit in my car and cry because I just cant seem to reach that student who comes to school loaded on pot or alcohol because that it thier norm. And even in the midst of it all I am not just a teacher, I am a mom that many dont have, a counselor that most need, a remedial tutor, a nurse, a cook and the list just goes on and on. And then there’s the state tests, GIVE ME A BREAK! Most of the questions and their answers dont have any relevance to my kids so they get lost in the questions and then, on average we find at least 5-9 questions with no answer that accuratly matches the questions or there are mistakes in the options they offer. So please, tell me how am I supposed to meet all the desired outcomes when I have to cherish the small victories of getting a student to start coming to school on time or come at all, or how about getting them to be able to read my infant son’s Animals on the Farm book as a 11th grader! For once, I would like one of the forums that allows me a chance to have a voice. A chance to show my kids that hard work truly does pay off; that the extra hours and the abundant personal funds and not unnoticed…

  • How About A Look At My Week?

    I just staggered into a Saturday morning from a typical week of teaching at the best school in my school district. Our API score is in the higher 800’s… and it’s not the highest score in our very competitive district, but what makes us the best school is who we are. We’re the best because of our people, not the numbers we deal with daily. What makes us the best is our staff, our parents, and our students. We are almost like a school in Finland we’re so good!

    I averaged four hours of sleep a night this week, so I spoiled myself and overslept this morning… I’m normally up and working (answering parent e-mails, grading papers, and filling out endless “school stuff” forms…) by 4:30 a.m., so I try to get to bed by 7:30 p.m., but insomnia just wouldn’t let go of me this week! I allowed myself to sleep in until almost 6:00 a.m. today, because… hey, it’s Saturday! I spent all of last weekend working on “school stuff.” I need a break, or I will break!

    I’m very excited today though, because my husband needs a new jacket, so we’re going to the best thrift store in the area. He’s a retired educator, with a teaching Master’s Degree from Tulane University, and 37 years in the classroom. His part time job paid early this week, so we might even get to eat lunch at Denny’s. He qualifies for the senior menu. I’m broke… but it’s okay because I ordered some great Math curriculum for my “proficient” students and that took my last $70.00. I have less than 15 “proficient” students in Math, and they usually get left to their own devices while I am trying to explain carrying and borrowing in addition to my “basic and below basic” students who make up most of the 33 kids in my room. I feel bad about that, but at least they have good self-esteem, and can work on their own sometimes… the lower skilled kids get frustrated and cry when they can’t “get it.” They need me more.

    On Monday I was given the actual time of day my S.I.O.P.S. lesson plan demonstration evaluation would be given on Wednesday. I was finally able to begin doing my lesson plans for a substitute to be in my room while I observed my colleagues jumping through their G.L.A.D., S.I.O.P.S., and Steps to Success hoops, and then took a leap at my own. I was also reminded that my 33 two page “standards based” progress reports were due this week on my 33 students. I couldn’t go home after school (there was a night time obligation I had to attend at our school, in the “multi-purpose room, that dignitaries would be present for… oooohhhh aaaahhhh….) so I ate my brown bag dinner in my classroom. I was able to escape after the speeches before the parking lot grid-lock happened and was home by 8:30! Not bad!

    On Tuesday I was given a new pull out schedule for my RSP and Speech students, and reminded to include the CEDLT scores on my progress reports for the 16 ESL kids among my 33 adorable 4th graders. I had to guess about the child who speaks no English at all because we don’t know how to test him, since none of us speak Italian. We normally deal with all of the Asian languages and of course, Hispanic dialects, Pacific Islanders, and Arabic children. Most of our children from India speak English very well. We have translators for our students from Eritrea and Ethiopia… I’ve been teaching in this district since 1997 but I’ve never had a non-English speaking Italian child in my class before… I’m optimistic though, because I have successfully taught a non-English speaking child from the Ukraine, and another one from Germany. No, I’m not a polyglot… but I am very expressive! I must warn the substitute about what she can give this child to do that will have meaning for him!

    On Wednesday I finally got around to getting all of my PTA notes typed and into a desk top folder…. I’m the new secretary of our tiny, struggling PTA, and I’m still stressing over the spelling of the parent’s last names who proposed and seconded all those motions at the meeting the other night! I’m not good at night, really! I struggle with focus.

    On Thursday I sat and watched two of my experienced colleagues perform their dog and pony shows for the outside evaluator. Even though they have tenure, and have been teaching longer than our evaluator has been alive, they were almost aphasic with stress… it was a marvel to me to see these two brave people shaken to the core… they are both excellent educators (and one is our assistant principal, only we can’t pay her for the extra hours that takes on top of her teaching, so the title doesn’t exist anymore, just the job!) but their confidence level was suddenly below zero. We had just been told how much money was spent on the new training. We were told so that so we would believe and feel that it would be all our fault if that money was wasted and we didn’t perform this dog and pony show perfectly! No stress!

    When it was my turn, my kids were awesome! They ad-libbed when I got flustered… they recited their memorized facts as tunefully as the Vienna Boys Choir… they even cooperatively generated a mnemonic of their own to remember compass coordinates… they were pitch perfect in behavior too… of course the evaluator didn’t notice any of that… she marked me down on two points of terminology… in my stressed out state I confused a “Pictorial Input Chart” with a “Visual Aid Chart.” Turns out one is blank and the other already has something on it. I am so ashamed of myself! I am such a loser! All that money spent, in this time of national fiscal crisis, and I botched the vernacular. I clearly deserve to be fired. Heck, I probably deserve to die. Well, you guessed it… it was another sleepless night for me. I was comforted in the relentless wakeful night by an ear-worm though… Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” I guess part of me is really tired of crying with the saints, eh?

    Friday was great though. My wonderful husband used his day off to come in and help me in class. He got certified as a substitute teacher just so he can do this for me. I am even allowed to go to the restroom when I need to, because he can be with my students even when I’m not in the room. Together, he and I can do anything! He taught my lesson on California History, how the geographic regions changed the way the people settled and lived on the land. He even worked one on one with my autistic student who can only function at a second grade skill level and has violent temper fits when frustrated. His help allowed me to find time in the day to type up and print my last five progress reports… ten pages of complicated, thoughtful progress reporting for some very special students! I was elated that I was able to slide into the end of this incredibly stressful but highly typical week, all caught up!

    Then I went into the staff room after school and saw what was filling our mail boxes… huge stacks of “district created” “benchmark” standardized tests in reading and writing! These are the tests we pay someone local to create so we can test the likelihood of our students passing the other standardized tests that someone must be staying rich by generating for us to administer in May. It’s a good thing I didn’t waste time filling in my lesson plan book for next week yet! These tests are mandated and they preempt teaching! Some of the kids will cry, but the really important thing is that they bubble everything in correctly. No smudges allowed either. We’re told that sometimes the smudges cause the machines that grade these to mis-read the test. My career could depend on everything bubbled in perfectly and no smudges! Yeah, it comes down to this!

    It was a good week though, because I only had one migraine headache start up Thursday afternoon… when I felt so over-whelmed because I heard about the sudden death of a wonderful, involved, concerned, and highly functional parent of two of our students… but I was able to stop my migraine before the visual distortion phase began, so I could drive home safely. Maybe I should stop putting off those tests my doctor ordered back in June, right after school ended for our two months of summer break. I haven’t had the time… I was nurse to my husband this summer, when he had total hip replacement… but that young parent died of a heart attack… and you know, that’s happening a lot more often these days. Maybe I’ll make some time.

  • Tired

    I’ve been a teacher for approximately 8 years. I went to graduate school to learn how to be an administrator because I was so tired of the injustices that administration alone was responsible for. I’m so glad that the letter touched on how teachers are fired for politics…so true, sadly. And yet the union has not done anything to protect non-tenure teachers. We’re led to slaughter every year – as long as the voting members in the union are protected. Bigger raises the longer you’ve taught? I don’t think so.

    As it turns out, having the administration degree has been a hinderance. Making myself a better asset to a school has made things harder. I’m too expensive now for many districts to hire. Why would they hire me if they can take a chance with an inexperienced first year teacher? Despite that I’ve been invited to speak at our state teacher’s conference and other venues on the success of my program, I’m still not worth it. I’m so glad to know that.

    I’ve spent nearly $2000 in the past two years equiping my music room with instruments for our low-income students because everyone deserves a chance to learn music and all the subjects that go with it. Physics, science, math, health, creativity…served on a daily basis. But how can I teach with a $50 annual budget for K-12? Or how about getting accused of having a bad attitude when I bring forth a valid safety concern for a student with medical needs in an overcrowded room? These are skills that no college prepares future teachers with.

    I’ve had to devote so much time to my job – a JOB – in order to make my bills that what little time I’ve spent at home has been in a miserable mood because I got to look forward to doing it all again the next day. Because of my JOB, I lost my husband and stepson. I wasn’t even allowed by my JOB to move my boy into college his freshman year because they didn’t want to pay for a sub. Turns out that would have been the last time I would ever see him. But because I’m non-tenure I have no rights.

    So what do you think I tell my students when they come to me and tell me they want to be a teacher like me? I beg them not to because I want them to be happy and not suffer as I’ve suffered. I want them to work hard and be rewarded for it, not publicly humiliated as an easy scape goat for the true problems in education. I want them to go home to a happy family and be able to enjoy their lives, not lose everything for a job that barely pays half the bills.

  • Laura Lee

    A collegue of mine was sharing her frustrations about a student who was, at times, physically out of control. This student was throwing objects at her and other students. The district behavioral specialist came to our school and observed the class for a period of time and gave the teacher a list of things to do for this student. My collegue was at a loss as to how to juggle the needs of her “good” students and still complete this list of things from the “specialist” for this one student. My collegue wrote to the district specialist and asked her to come teach the class one day and implement the list of items. This way my collegue can take notes and see how it is to be done. The response from the district specialist was that she can’t because she has never taught before. I think this is a perfect example of people who have never taught telling those in the classroom what needs to be done. I spend 10 hours at school each day and still have 3 hours of grading, lesson plans, and on-line grade card information to take care of in the evening. I rarely spend time with my husband and two children. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have their support. I have 26 children in my classroom and I teach 4th grade. My students range in capability from beginning 2nd grade to 8th grade. I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet each of their needs. I have students who have extremely involved and supportive parents, but I have students whose parents don’t even make sure their child wears clean clothes. Bottom line: smaller class sizes, competative pay, holding parents just as responsible as the teacher.

  • Kim

    I’ve been an elementary school teacher for nine years and would love to improve the learning of all students just as any other teacher would. A little help and support would be nice.
    How can anyone think it’s okay to judge what we do when they’ve never experienced it? I challenge those who blame teachers for the state of education in our country to spend a week or a day (or even an HOUR!) in our shoes to get a taste of the challenges we’re faced with. When they’re done maybe they’ll be arguing for raises for teachers instead of blaming us for the problems in the system!
    In spite of all the frustrations, challenges, and blame that is placed on us, we still try our best everyday to help make our students lives better. Try to criticize us for that.

  • stacy

    Yes! Ask the teachers! Talk to the ones who actually have experience working with the children. What a concept.

  • Technokat

    Bravo, Professor Gildersleeve. I hope Oprah ultimately proves she is the person that so many say she is and truly advocates for the children of this country by hearing the side of those of us with the responsibility of teaching them.

    I anxiously anticipate an Oprah special with a panel of real educators and an audience of real teachers. I hope she makes this happen, not because it will give her high ratings, but because it is the right thing to do.

    Thank you for speaking out on behalf of all of us “in the trenches.”

  • Linda

    Raising the skills of our students can’t be accomplished by throwing blame and wasting time with narrowly targeted and prepared proposals. I spend too much time teaching my students how to write a persuasive essay in a timed environment, in a totally foreign and unauthentic testing situation. ACT and MME scores are the goals. Passing a particular percentage or number of students, regardless of their understanding and retention of the required skills does not encourage them to retain or use information past the applicable test. Time for literature and writing that engage and expand the students’ perceptions of their place and potential impact in a greater world community and its birthing of new ideas and solutions is seriously limited.

    The realities:

    When I assign an essay, if I allow just three minutes to assess and respond to each student’s work, I need to find seven and one-half hours of my own time. With all of the other lesson plans, research, grading, record keeping, individual student help, and other activities (A school is a community, and few teachers refuse to help with clubs and events because they allow us to interact with our students in their areas of interests, building trust for in the classroom), I find that I am working about about 70 hours a week, in a good week. That’s is not counting that I work through lunch every day, helping individuals. In the summer, I write syllabi, attend professional conferences, read the latest pedagogy, write lesson plans and units, etc. I care deeply about my students and my work; some say obsessively. You cannot treat teaching like a job or you will quickly find something more compatible with family life. It has to be a calling to hang in there and do what it takes.

    I don’t know how someone with a young family can make a teacher’s life compatible with family life. I chose this career after my sons were mostly grown. I love the challenge, my students and colleagues, but I fight the stress of keeping it all going and not feeling worn to a thread. Students need more than just I can give them.

    They need families that support them and encourage them to do their homework. The schools need direction that comes from truly caring and intelligent leaders, who take the time to listen to those of us on the front line in the classroom. We need current textbooks that keep up with technology student interests (Our British Literature books are from 1983). In this technological society, my classroom has a badly faded slate board and an ancient overhead. When I find the time to write grants that will pay for the bus and my substitute, I have managed to take a few classes to a place that connects them to the material that they are studying; this kind of experience has a dynamic impact for many children. There is no money for field trips in our budget that has shrunk repeatedly for the past several years. These are just the facts.

    Recently, NEA published an article about the progress of students in Finland. Notice that I said progress of the students, not increased standardized testing scores. If the article is objective and accurate, the success was due to efforts initiated by the local schools and their communities; they worked to get everyone associated with the students to buy-in, the schools, parents, and community.

    We need to stop playing the blame game, assess the practical needs of our students on all levels, get the families involved, and quit tying teachers’ hands with mandated curriculums that are designed to increase tests, which evaluate our students’ skills artifically and irrespective of their authentic learning.

  • J. Jill Rito

    In all fairness, as skewed as it may be, the reason moguls and politicians get national air-time and voice on matters of education is precisely because the edifying process of education is becoming (has become?) more and more like business and/or entertainment as the years have passed. While no one denies the need for financial resources in any sector of life, those resources and sterile, organizational business procedures may not be the necessary panacea for improvement in education. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that people (not just students) know and rather cultivate a brand of “respect” for entertainers or business persons based on the level of fame, money or in all too many cases, notoriety he/she possesses rather than the value of that which he/she espouses/lives. Even individuals in media, entertainment, sports or politics become overshadowed, bought and sold, by the corporations that promote or ruin them. Stadiums and theaters named for performers whose names were synonymous with talent in the past, now exalt the company name which pays for the multimillion dollar deal, renaming the facilities as their exclusive raison d’etre. Any student knows William H. Gates. Who knows William E. Deming? Just a thought.

  • Stephanie Haraway

    I am so glad to know that there is someone who believes in the public school teacher! I wished that the politicians would walk a day in our shoes!

    Thank you Ms. Gildersleeve!!! You have my vote!

    I am so tired of hearing the negative publicity that teachers are receiving in the media–how we only work to 3:00 P.M. (Wrong!), how we get the summers off (Wrong!), etc., etc., etc. Recently, after hearing all that I could stand, I thought that teachers need to stand up for our profession!!!!

  • Susan Poole

    What ever happened to, “It takes a village to raise a child”? I suggest we look at the Finnish school system, because they seem to be having great success with including whole communities in educating their students. They have not adopted the inane presumption that teachers are solely responsible for a student’s success or failure. Yet in the long term their students are succeeding. Finnish students are not subjected to the ‘testing them until they drop’ mentality of our present public school system. In fact the Finnish seldom give ‘bubble tests’ to their students in the lower grades. Instead they keep anecdotal records and give elementary students the opportunity to learn at their own pace rather than failing every student who does not meet the ‘grade level standard’ implemented by a mass produced drill and kill curriculum. Finns have asked the question, “What does it mean to be educated?” Have our politicians and media even posed that question? Rather than imposing the expectation that our children are being raised to serve the state? Have we traveled back in time to ancient Sparta?

  • Jennifer Paul

    Dear Cynthia:
    You have siad all the right things. I teach in a locality where 60-75% of all my students are on free or reduced lunches. Most have “extenuating circumstances” that present roadblocks to learning, yet I am supposed to help them ALL raise their levels of performance. I believe I am doing that, but by the time benchmark tests are given, these students are burned out and resentful of the entire process and they are ready to just forget it. I always considered education to be on the level of importance just under one’s religious beliefs. Yet, it has been reduced to a test.

  • Dee

    We are now, in spite of all that we know as teachers, proving once and for all that large class sizes make no difference. How? We’re working harder than ever, putting in more hours, and making sure those scores go up . . . in spite of class sizes, in fear of losing our jobs. So we’re missing a great opportunity to show how scores decline when class sizes leap over the 40-student mark. Parents and kids know how awful these crowded classrooms can be. But our districts are pushing on our administrators who are in turn putting pressure on teachers, so that impossible conditions are rendered even worse by the additional pressure to raise those scores. And we’re too busy grading those endless stacks of papers and moonlighting to pay the rent that we can take the time to argue against those platitudes and simplistic solutions. Get off the couch, Oprah, and go take on an audience of 40 kids who hate math, have ADHD, live in homes where homework isn’t part of life and think it’s okay to be rude to a teacher. See if you can raise their scores!

  • Jay Frederick

    Thank God someone finally put the self-important Oprah Winfrey in her place! AMEN!

  • Taylor White

    It really is time to boycott Oprah.

  • I did not see Oprah’s show on Education, and now I am glad that I didn’t. I have been an elementary teacher for 28 years. I have three children of my own. I believe that most politicians, parents, and state education officials do not understand child development, the education process, schools, or the needs of young families. In my urban school district, we have steadily improved test scores,but at the cost of limiting the curriculum to what is tested,and we have stressed out many children and every teacher. During the school year, I give reading assessments 9 out of 36 weeks of the school year. That is one-fourth of the teaching year. I could be teaching new content, but instead I have to give individual assessments. I did not go into teaching so that I could give tests. I went into teaching so that I could teach (in my own way, not word for word what some editor writes) and interact with the students that I care about. I don’t mind teaching the “standards”, but who thinks we have to prove teachers are “good” with merit pay? Teachers have no control over the socio-economic, health, or family circumstances of their students. Students should not be treated as products, and schools should not be run as a business/company. Our country needs to make schools more equitiable with funding, not less. Why does anyone think it’s a good idea to give unsuccessful schools LESS money? They need more resources!
    I could rant on and on, but let the teachers be heard!

  • I totally agree with Dee. I couldn’t have said it better. Kudos to you!
    I would tell Oprah the same thing the angry teacher in the letter said. You need to be there, in the trenches with us…And then, talk the good talk.
    I like Oprah a lot, but I don’t agree with bashing teachers, just because it must be politically correct to do right now. You need to walk in that person’s shoes, experience the day, experience the kids that we are given to teach and then make up your mind against teachers… But not before you do that!

  • Margaret Pamias

    I do not know how or if the students are held accountable for how well they do on state tests in other places, but where I teach the teachers and schools are the only ones being judged. This is wrong. I have seen students finish their test in 10 minutes or less by just marking the same response on the scantron for every question on the test. Who in their right mind came up with this system. If we are going to tests students, the students must have a vested interest in their results. Judging teachers on test results, without changes, is blatantly unfair to all.

  • Marcia Skidmore

    I am a teacher in a city public school. I have 7th graders, up to 38 in a single class and a 98 degree classroom with 80% of what is in my classroom provided by me – including technology. I work from 7:00 in the morning when I arrive at school until I leave, usually around 6:00. I give up my lunch everyday to voluntarily tutor students, my planning period is used to call parents and handle copying and other duties, and then I go home every night to grade papers for several hours. I serve on multiple committees, attend workshops to improve my curriculum and yet the school system announced there will not be money for a raise for the next two years. I am disrespected by my administration, berated by the parents and yet I work for these kids. No Child Left Behind, No Teacher Left Standing.

  • Ms222

    All the talk from the “reformers” such as college drop-out/most wealthiest individual in the USA, Bill Gates and Winfrey, multi-billionaire talk show host has nothing to do with education…it’s all about the trillions in taxpayer $$$ they will receive from their lapdog Republican and in some cases Democratic politicians they funded with billions of dollars to buy state and federal elections.

    Public Education funding, the last big carrot left. It’s all about money, my fellow educators…that is why no teachers are invited to the table.

  • Thanks for the great letter! It’s so depressing to see the road we’ve gone down as a society and what it has done to our profession. What has happened to the basic moral concept of contributing to society for the greater common good? Isn’t that what distinguishes developed nations from underdeveloped ones? Why have we forgotten that? Is it just greed? We’re one of the wealthiest nations in the world and we can’t afford to educate our children?!!! Maybe we need to sit down and have a national debate about where our priorities lie: encarcerating people or educating them? Building bridges between peoples or building bombs? The list goes on…

  • Robert Maley

    Frank McCourt said much the same thing. Can only hope Oprah heeds the call.

  • Jeri

    Can you imagine what your classroom would be like if your student’s parents actually functioned in the role of parents. Just think what it would be like if your children came to school with basic manners, a good nights sleep, a good breakfast, someone who took them to a doctor, dentist, optometrist when needed, someone who cared about their education and helped with their homework, someone who just cared enough to love them.

    I am beginning year 24, and I think that it will be my last. I have been told many times over the years that I am a very good “teacher” but I am not all of the above, and hence my failure.

    Any ideas where a 57 year old female, 24 year veteran of the classroom might find a job?

  • Carlos Palacio

    12 paragraphs of complaining! Sheesh, woman.

  • Heidi

    I have been a educator for twenty-eight years and I am married to a teacher as well. In that time I have worn many hats. My background includes a bachelor in elementary education, a masters in counseling, and endorsements in English as a Second Language and special education. I have worked in schools that deal with children of poverty and violence and in middle income neighborhoods.

    When did teacher bashing become a national past time? Every teacher I know works extremely hard. We teach all day, supervise playgrounds before, after, and during school because there are no more para-educators due to lack of funding. We attend mandatory meetings before and after school. We participate in extra classes in the evening to obtain a piece of technology for use in our classroom that is otherwise denied to us. We spend hours working on the “project” these classes demand we complete and then do the horse and pony show that the class requires or lose that piece of essential teaching equipment. We participate in outside of class programs that the district provide in order not to be docked part of our salary that is dangled like a carrot in front of us as a “raise.” We work tirelessly with out students during our lunches time instead of having our thirty minutes of break that is essential to our health. We run to the antiquated copier that we have in the building during our thirty minutes of prep time and stand in line waiting to run our thirty copies of mandatory teaching material the district requires…praying that the copier is working today and that the paper supply is still available. The list of problems and difficulties teachers face to day is endless. When we finally get home after seven most nights, all we want to do is go to bed because we are so tired we can hardly keep our eyes open. Our own children have had to call us at school and leave a message in order to have any of our attention. We are tired, sick from stress, underpaid, and exhausted. I will not say that we are unappreciated though because our students and parents appreciate us and keep us going. They are the reason we go to school in the mornings and work horrific hours. It is their thanks and their support that make the difference for teachers.

    I am sorry that Oprah and other non-educators are not appreciative of what we do for children every day. I would like to suggest instead of teacher bashing, that they spend a week in a local school and find out first hand what teachers actually do. Walk around with a teacher for a day, talk to students and parents. Listen to what our bus drivers have to do and talk to para-educators about their day. Ask the building secretaries why they are having to dispense medication, deal with discipline issues, and learn how to use a secure hold when a student becomes disruptive in the office? Look at our curriculum load, check out the classroom facilities, walk around and see how many soap dispensers are empty due to lack of funding, ask us why the carpets are ripped, the walls need painting, why the trash cans are overflowing, see how many computers the students have available and talk to our supervisors. Maybe together we can improve the education field. Teacher bashing may make you feel better, but it does nothing to help the situation. I agree that education needs help, but beating up the one essential positive source of wealth the system has, namely the teachers and support staff that work tirelessly for students, is not the answer. If you want to make a difference in the world of children, become a teacher. If you want to reform education, use your money and power where it is most effective, support education.

    I would like to end my comment by saying that I did not watch your show, Oprah, or watch your movie. I was to busy working in my classroom trying to make a difference in the lives of my students. I live in America and I work everyday to make a difference in the lives of American children. I am a Superwomen. I am a teacher!

  • Catherine

    I agree 100% with most of the above comments. Thank you for speaking up! I have been a teacher for 29 years. Last year third through sixth grades wee required to take their state test on the computer. The computer system kept crashing. Our school didn’t make the Annual Yearly Progress improvements that are required under NCLB. Our principal told us we had to do beter teaching this year to ensure we make AYP. He shrugged off the computer problem.
    One of the above teachers made an eloquent description of the problems kids have BEFORE they come to school (lack of sleep, food, parental attention). If some magical wand could take care of these problems, we would automatically have better grades, schools, etc. Thanks to all the hardworking teachers who truly love the kids and stick with it even with all these obstacles!

  • Karen Brown

    Bravo!!! It is about time someone stood up for us.

  • Rhonda

    I feel that as long as those who do not teach or have a clue about teachers and what challenges we face, there will always be chaos and blame on our shoulders. I am so sick and tired of teachers receiving a tongue lashing about what we are not doing as educators…. Everything that Ms. Glidersleeve said is so true and accurate.

    The Michelle Rhees of the world, no education background, not certified, paying students to come to school, firing teachers without reason makes the ones who goto school, work hard at making a difference in a child’s life, make teaching seem to be in vain.

    Highly qualified teachers…every profession comes from a highly qualified teacher…we make it possible to help those politicians, the Oprah’s do what they do…

    NCLB is the biggest joke in the education world, and who suffers and pays the price, the students and the teachers…Students because they are left behind, test scores aren’t how you teach, you teach what has meaning….reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and the arts. Not how much money will the school receive if the school makes AYP due to an inaccurate standardized test. Teachers suffer, because we are held accountable for teaching a test and not what is important to learning. Do people outside the realm of the classroom realize that students memorize what is needed on a test and then they forget about it. Teacher who dig deep into pockets of their own wallet to get the supplies and resources they need for their class because there isn’t any money in the budget to have the schools get what is needed. Yet, we are on the chopping block for making AYP with no resources, supplies or support.

    I paychecks are not even close to some of the profession we help people achieve and we must continue to go back to school over and over and over in order to get a pinch of an increase in salary…How many other professions must do that.

    Teaching is a great job to have if you don’t factor in the paperwork that you must complete in school, take home, bring back, pacify parents, and administrators. We as educators have some of the biggest health issues because of the stress that we deal with on a 24 hour basis. Yes, I said 24 hours….because our job is never ending… we are always on call, and I think there are people who seem to forget that we have personal lives as well, families, friends, time for ourselves, etc. What is funny, is they say (the non-educators) “You get the summers off…” well, really we don’t. I had 25 days of summer and 2 weeks of it was trying to get approval for a workshop that I didn’t attend due to lack of communication for the “powers that be”. And they wanted me to do two weeks….That would have cut down on the little bit of time I had to regroup from the school year. It seems as if the summers are getting shorter and shorter and work is getting longer and longer.

    We as educators need to have a voice heard, faces seen, and ears to listen and then maybe those who have no clue can get a clue.

  • LAS

    As a teacher myself, I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Gildersleeve’s upset- If education is as hot a topic as it seems to be these days, how can you have a constructive conversation about improving the state of schools, teachers, and children’s education WITHOUT having the main players(teachers)included in the national conversation?? The teachers in the trenches have invaluable knowledge about their situations, what their students need, and what they need to be able teach to kids’ needs. It’s time for Oprah to step up and have a REAL conversation with the real heroes/heroines every day who work with our nation’s kids, not just the people who report on them and make documentaries about the “state of public education” in America today. I like Oprah, too, and with all her interest in education and work starting a school for girls in Africa, I am betting on her ability to get a forum of teachers, parents, students, and school administrators on her show to have that conversation.

  • Jonnie

    Well said…all across the nation, teachers are experiencing the same issues whether teaching rural, urban or suburban students. I recently left a public school district after 18 years to “try” a private school atmosphere in hopes of an improved experience…NOT! I quickly returned to the urban public school district and plan to stay until retirement. I don’t care what research says, students are human beings with basic human needs that must be met before learning can take place. If these needs have not been addressed before they get to school, it is the teachers job to meet those needs in order to create an environment where ALL students can learn. I pray that Oprah will have a show that will allow teachers from all over the country and all experience levels to discuss what we know about education.

  • Jacky

    Bravo and well put I as a mother of 3 have watched the devistating effects that “teaching to test” has had on my children. Important and needed skills are being left out while teachers hands are tied so that the state test scores can be increased. In the mean time the children suffer and are in fact being left behind!!!! With budget cuts and increase class sizes the children are the ones who suffer!!!!! If the goverment wants to know how to fix the problem with our educational system ask the TEACHERS, who deal with the children and their needs daily!!! I bet they have the answers!!!

  • Jane

    Thank you for speaking on behalf of the millions of hard-working teachers in the U.S. We work hard, help students with many problems beyond the classroom, and are rewarded with jokes and and a lack of respect from the public. It is a good thing that we do it for the kids, because the number of good teachers dwindle every year with only 50% of new teachers quitting within three years. I plan to stick it out for the kids…

  • Elaine Ledlow

    Very well said Ms.Gildersleeve! I don’t think I could have been as polite! She made a very eloquente statement of the state of education in our country.

  • I am a retired teacher. I must say I have never been so angry with anyone as I have been with Oprah’s program. I happened to watch it.I concur with everything others have said. I will never watch Oprah or have anything with her again. Her prejudice toward teachers was obvious. I have worked at many jobs before teaching and none was as challenging.Im remember a child coming to school one day without his homework completed and I was upset with him. He proceded to tell me why. He lived in a housing project. “The machine-guns were going last night, Mr. M……Rival gangs were fighting and bullets came through the windows.We had to turn out the lights and lay on the floor.” Are teachers responsible for that. Kids come to school with all their baggage and we try to repair the damage. You talk to administrators. While there are some good admistrators, most couldn’t make it as a teacher They are perfect examples of the Peter Principal. Lousy teacher, make him a principal, lousy principal, make him an Asst. Superintendant. AND THESE PEOPLE ARE THE ONES DIRECTING EDUCATION.Very few are capable of directing anything let alone education of our children.Administrators go into it FOR THE MONEY.If you do away with tenure , you will not lose bad teachers , you will lose the good ones because good teachers stand up against bad policies.These people would be fired.Administeators think their way is the only and if you disagree with they would fire you without btenure. Old timers told me about what it was like befors tenure. Some of the things you were fired for were: wrong religion, wrong political party, wrong or no religion,If you were a married woman.They were told how to dress. Curfews were placed on them. Why do so many teachers get overlooked for principal positions. I’ve seen it over and over. You are told ,” When are you going to keep your mouth shut ? Don’t you ever want to be a principal. I’ve seen it over and over again.I was part of it. I put the kids first and fought for them. I was asked,”When are you going to stop signing those petitions(to get needed services for our children)Don’t you ever want to get anywhere ?Work on committees- The only ones really concerned about children are the teachers on the committee.TEACHERS CARE ABOUT KIDS. Oten these kids come from families who do not value education.”My family has worked in the mill for generations or my family are farmers and I will be on too.I don’t needto go to school.”I could go on and on. Too many people who dictate policy are totaly unqualified to do so!

  • The concept of tenure was developed to protect a teacher’s Freedom of Speech, not to protect the jobs of bad teachers. I really do not understand why this isn’t stressed in these discussions. Is it possible that the problem isn’t bad teachers, but the one size fits all approach to modern teaching?

    If you want to know what is wrong with education, follow the money. Who is making all the money on seventy five to one hundred and fifty dollar textbooks that have to be modified every three to five years? Who is making all the money selling books to districts, espousing the latest educational theories, with barely modified names for charts, graphs, and “rubrics” that look suspiciously like ones that we are already using or had recently used. Who is making the money by creating programs at the District level, that result in more and more hours of training for teachers, during the hours that used to be devoted to students?

    We need to stop and ask ourselves if the purpose of education is teaching students how to learn, or forcing them to adapt to the political philosophies of whatever party happens to be in power at the moment, or the families of those leaders who happen to be selling the textbooks!

    We need to discontinue the practice of sending new teachers out into the field to espouse the latest educational theories dreamed up by professors who have to “re-label” every three to five years in order to get the latest edition of their textbook into print. Instead of putting new teachers at odds with their administrations, teach them how to survive their first three to seven years without burning out. Teach them what is actually working in the classrooms of the districts they are going to apply for jobs in, and give them the tools they need to survive with the resources that are actually available to them.

    It is interesting that Oprah’s solution for everything is to give something away for free to every member of the audience. Maybe she would like to get together with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and give us all a shiny new education system! We all know how well that worked out the last time she tried it!

  • Victoria Douglas

    Well said my friend! I teach 3rd grade in Florida in a Title 1 school, and the challenges students bring with them each and every day must be met before we can ever crack open a book! I think we should invite these panel of “experts” to do our job from beginning to end for two weeks and then let them talk. I guarentee most of them wouldn’t last a day. Thank you for writing this letter, and being a “voice” for teachers everywhere.

  • Lee

    Oprah was not teacher-bashing. She was saying to get rid of poor teachers–and there are many, many poor teachers in the system. There are also many great teachers in the system. The teachers this writer describes are the hardworking ones who are doing a good job. Quit taking it personally if you are doing a great job.

    The fact is that poor teachers are detrimental to children’s education–like it or not. They need to go. Period.

  • Daryll Dowty

    I read the above impassioned comments, and I agree with most of what is written there. Many teachers are dedicated, way beyond what they should be or what is healthy for them or for their families. And yet we are told that the public schools are failing. This assessment is largely based on the number of students that go on to college. And while that is a noble goal, it is a quantitative measure of a qualitative issue.

    From the research I’ve read it appears that the United States has a dropout rate of around 50%. It is hidden between the lines of the research, because, I suspect, no one wants to admit that schools are failing to serve that large a portion of our society. Additionally, of those who go on to college, many are not prepared for the venture and drop out or fail to complete the course of study in the proscribed time period, now approaching or exceeding 5 years for many disciplines,

    Could it be that the reason schools are failing is because we no longer provide services for those who want to do something else with their lives. we still need craftsmen/women and service skills and cosmeticians and mechanics and… The list goes on, yet the emphasis is on preparing students for higher education. I’ll grant that many jobs require an A.S., B.S., or even higher degree to be competitive, but those that have dropped out at any point in their academic career, with few exceptions, are never going to compete at that level. Shouldn’t we be providing a viable education for that segment of our society as well as the college bound student?

    To provide such an education will require a different mindset than is presently held by those enforcing “Every Child Left Behind”. In the early or mid 80’s I remember reading articles that identified the inefficiencies of our educational system and promised that “business” could revolutionize, streamline and make our educational system much more efficient and cost effective. What is seen in today’s morass is the result of those efforts. Children are not products, cost/pupil is not an effective evaluation tool and teaching is not manufacturing or sales. NCLB/ECLB is not a viable instrument of evaluation and a curriculum designed to compete with other nations rather than designed to meet the needs of our society , is not valuable to the future of our nation.

    As in every case where society avoids dealing with the complex and underlying real problems of an issue, it is easy to find a scapegoat. Right now teachers are that scapegoat. In a few years it will be something else unless the issue is truly dealt with and we as a society put as much effort into developing our future generations as we put into trying to become wealthy or notorious.

  • Kent

    I have been in education for 20 years. I agree with this letter. Tenure is a problem for a few teachers but the majority of teachers care for students. All media networks are one sided against public education. Obama and Duncan are no better when they say that our students are behind other countries when we compare test scores. In Illinois, we are required to take the ISAT and PSAE exams. Do other countries take the ISAT and PSAE? The answer is no so how can you compare. Do other countries test their special education students? I was mad after this show as well because it was one sided. Private school students don’t take test so how you can compare private to public schools. Just like when the stations talk about home schooled students they show a few good parents who home school. They should come to the area I live and show the terrible parents who home school. Oprah needs to come to our school and see how good some public school are.

  • deano

    Since it is inevitable that the entitlement mentality will go on for generations
    Why should we not demand something back? I say it is inevitable because the number of entitlement programs from welfare all the way to NCLB, and NCES ( no child expelled from school), is so huge that if we stop it now there will be open rebellion. Lets stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Parents are not held accountable for their childrens behavior or their grades, but they are entitled to social welfare programs that pay them, per child. They are entitled to free lunches, not penalized for lost books( you can try), or damaged equipment, not held responsible for assault because they are minors. What if a parent received a welfare check for 20% less because little Billy could not behave in class? Do you think Billy’s behavior might change, even a little? If his behavior changed, he might learn (along with the rest of the class he’s distracting), if he learned he might be able to get a good job and rescue his family from a life of poverty. Maybe, the cycle would end. If we can stop the cycle of entitlement, we can stop the cycle of slavery that it has created.

  • Olivia LaShambae

    Well I totally agree with Ms. Gildersleeve how do you do a show and not have Parents,teachers, and students on the show who work their butts off to teach what happen when Oprah open her school in Africa????? Bill gates is filthy rich what schools has he been in and missey michele was she a teacher and why not look even further at the Special Education within the Department of Education you would be astounded as to what we go thru ??? be careful Oprah you sliped on this one there is always two sides to a story. Olivia LaShambae.

  • Nelsa Feaster

    Thank you for writing this letter. I come from a family where education and educators were/are valued. It is unfortunate that we tend to beat up the victim in so many cases, teachers being one. Even the worst teacher comes to work in the most strenuous and difficult of circumstances, high volume of kids, high volume of paperwork, high volume of personal stress from working so much for so little, and now we are having to stand under attack. Whatever happened to community and family support for the schoolteacher? When did we stop allowing teachers to teach while we simultaneously blame them for not teaching? You can’t make me the scapegoat for everything that is wrong in the public schools and then not allow ME to come up with a viable solution to fix it. We try to be innovative, but that isn’t important because “it isn’t on the test.” We try to spend time getting to know our kids, but our second and third jobs are required to help out with our own families (I know one teacher who cleans buildings part-time, makes jewelry to sell, and several who work at restaurants or stores in the community to make ends meet). We are SUPERMAN, but at what cost to our own health, happiness, and family structures? What other career requires what teaching does–with the workers worth linked to the test scores of the consumer? Do doctors get fired when their patients continue to have health problems and die? Do researchers get fired even though they don’t yet have a cure for cancer? Do fire-fighters get laid off because the buildings went up in flames due to an arsonist and the fire-fighters didn’t get it put out on time? Yet no one would be in any career if it weren’t for teachers. Where is the data for that?

  • Mary Kay

    What a well written letter! I have also been burning to rant back at her. Re: Oprah’s show, I am sick of the circular conversation with no one actually talking to teachers in the trenches. I was equally upset with having a musician telling how it is. I have believed for a long time that this public school bashing comes from those who do not believe in fed. tax supported education in the first place, and don’t want it to appear to be succeeding so they can justify gross under funding or just shut it down. I actually heard a conservative on a talk show say, “all you liberals think public education should be free, that’s socialism!” I read that Musolini shut down public education saying it was never intended to educate the masses. I sincerely believe there are those in this country who think the same way. Public educ is expensive and as a country we need to be willing to step up and pay for it. I teach in a low income, high drug and gang activity area. Of course these children can learn but many of them need more resources than some other kids. For example,my District has 22 schools and 3 nurses to serve all students. We don’t have the money for the psychs, resource teachers etc. We have an afterschool program that is great and it has a very long waiting list. A side note, one of my students didn’t come to school the first day because a close family member had been murdered the day before. These kids need a lot of extra support. I started my year with 42 kinder students, now I have 30. All of my teaching collegues are exhausted, stressed and are now being attacked for all their effort. Of course, I think this may be part of the strategey for those who believe that the NEA is their public enemy number one. Get the teachers to turn on each other. Those bad teachers must be out there somewhere, it must be the unions fault. I’ll stop now. I am wound up as many of you are.

  • Suzanne

    Where do I begin?

    I am appalled that teachers are all being called bad or ineffective because of issues beyond our control. Would you call a dentist ineffective if she couldn’t save the teeth of a person who only ate candy, all day, every day? Yet, for some of the students in my class, the most nutritious food they eat all day is the fast food cafeteria lunch. At recess, they eat chips, candy, cookies, all sent from home. It’s rare to see a student with fruit, nuts, cheese, or another nutritious snack.

    I have 32 students in my room. Of those, 14 are English learners at varying levels. I have eight who miss 1 1/2 hours of my class time each day to attend special ed classes. I have four who have serious medical issues, requiring medications and causing frequent absences. When we talk about healthy habits, most students report they get less than 7 hours sleep each night. (These are 10 year old children.) They report dinners of frozen burritos or chicken nuggets. Many do not eat breakfast.

    Many parents tell me they don’t have any idea what’s going on in our classroom. This is despite the fact that I post weekly bulletins on my website, weekly bulletins in the students’ homework packets, and send home flyers and notes almost daily. Do they ever look at their children’s work, or check their backpacks, or perhaps have a conversation about school with them?

    And yet, I am expected to bring all of these students to a proficient level in incredibly complex skills and concepts, many that I didn’t encounter until junior high school. Some of the students are burned out already, and it shows. They hate school, and they aren’t even out of grade school yet. Wouldn’t you hate school, if you were being tested all the time?

    Perhaps the most poignant conversation I had this year was with our custodian. He comes in around 5:30, while I’m grading papers at my desk.

    He said to me, “You test quite a bit, don’t you?”

    I agreed.

    He said, “You’ve been testing the kids every week now, and it’s only the 5th week of school.”

    I agreed.

    He asked, “So tell me something. When do you teach?”

  • Carl Scariati

    Britton Gildersleeve makes a number of valid points, but let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

    The public education system is being deliberately and systematically dismantled so that it can be privatized. The goal is to create a multi-billion dollar market for private enterprise. The call for “reform” is a smokescreen.

    There is a steadily growing body of documentation describing this plan but it is not being reported in the mainstream media. I strongly suggest having a look at the following articles to start:

    ‘The Big Enchilada’, by Jonathan Kozol, Harper’s

    ‘Capitalist crisis invades public education’, by Fred Goldstein, Workers World

    ‘Teachers Without Jobs and Education Without Hope: Beyond Bailouts and the Fetish of the Measurement Trap’, by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

    ‘When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, Public School Teachers and the Politics of Humiliation”, by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

    The sooner the teachers’ unions and the public recognize what is really being done to them, the sooner it will be possible to mount a defense against this craven act of predatory capitalism.

  • Barbara

    Thank you for standing up, Britton Gildersleeve.
    This is what I believe happened to the world of education:

    Public education is very big business. So long as the profit takers can keep teachers, students, and their parents fighting amongst one another their profits are safe. If the profit takers can get the voting public and generous philanthropists into the fray, so much the better.

    Follow the money.

    There are serious problems with the way the education system in this country is managed.

    Again, follow the money.

    And that idea does not even take into account the incredible money laundering schemes carried on within individual school districts.

  • Miss B :)

    I am a first year high school teacher and am witnessing first hand the politics of big business. Teaching is not my first career, I’ve held many positions before this including a government position but have honestly never experienced more political sabotage than I have in my first 9 weeks of teaching. As they say S@#T trickles down and my district in particular is on the steepest slope I’ve ever seen. I’ve worked 12 hours a day every day since before school started, accruing well over 150 hours of overtime in one quarter, and have come to realize that without the summer we would never have a chance to try to recuperate though I know I’ll have to take on a second job to catch up with what I can’t afford to take care of now. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that is asked of us between planning 3 weeks in advance, grading district testing, calling parents on failing grades, tardies and unexcused absences. We test constantly and frankly the kids don’t care about their test scores. And how do you make them care when it’s clear the material has no relevance to their lives? I’ve become a target for my administration because I began to search outside the given script for material that the kids would find interesting and meaningful to what they want to do outside of high school. I’ve built amazing relationships with my students but have been punished for their test scores not reaching the other substandard scores in my department. I am on the pay for performance plan and am watching the world around me disintegrate. I have students that are homeless, students who are trying to escape gang life or even worse trying to balance their gang family world with that of school, students on drugs, selling drugs, taking care of cracked out family members, trying to support themselves in their own households because family life is too bad. Every day students ask me if I have food because they are starving and can’t concentrate so I supply a goodie bag of healthy treats just in case. So what’s my point? Until I became a teacher I had no idea how much it involved and it frosts my cookies to see people, not only continuing to live in the ignorance I am now free from, but who are allowed to dare speak on the subject, offer advice, or develop policy. It’s nice to wish them a week in the classroom but personally there’s been enough damage done and they have no business stepping foot into a classroom with the intention of trying to do a better job than those of us that put in the legwork, the immense hours and most importantly the heart. I love my students. They are the reason I won’t be just another statistic. I love teaching and can’t imagine doing anything else. But I dream of a day and a district where I can be a real teacher and given a chance to grow to be an amazing teacher. The students, the love for those kids, are the only reason there are any teachers left. We are teachers, parents, nurses, babysitters, disciplinarians, counselors, etc. All in one. What more can we possibly give? Leave us alone- find another area of American life to damage. Oh and while you’re at it- quit comparing us to other countries that don’t educate their entire population, or track their population to educate to each child’s strengths. We will never compare. And as long as you continue to believe that testing is teaching or proof thereof, education is doomed.

  • Bill Dittmann

    I watched Oprah’s show and I have been to the website that is promoting Waiting For Superman. I am a retired teacher with 20 years experience. I am a proud member of CTA, the union rep at my school. I agree with many of the comments that great teachers have been writing in response to this attack on our profession.
    I want to add some of my own observations. When i entered the teaching profession in 1970, my mission was to change how children are taught. Sure I made many mistakes, but I also had many successes. Last year I left the profession, embittered, because I can no longer put in the energy required to be the best teacher that I can be (self-contained sixth grade) My class ran all day with very little down-time. I was always well-prepared. Learning actvities were usually creative and engaging. Although I am past retirement age, I never stopped upgrading my skills (the times require that we do so).
    What really makes me angry about the discussion, is how little the pundits actually know about the daily teaching/learning process. The nexus between myself and my students is so valuable, so complex, that it cannot be assessed except in a very general way. I can do the dog and pony show when my principal observes me. My parents think I walk on water, because I am creative and self-confident. My standards, I repeat MY STANDARDS, are high enough to challenge my students. And I don’t teach in a charter school.
    My colleagues are the same as me. Very rarely does anyone fail to live up to the expectations of parents, students, administrators, but mostly of themselves. On the other hand, they continue to grow in their profession.
    Finally, I want to suggest what another writer suggested. Every person, growing up was greatly influenced by a teacher. President Obama and Arnie Duncan should ask the Cabinet members to write a 750 word, five paragraph essay, describing the influence of a teacher on their lives. Then they should publish it. We all know what the effect will be. Nothing in this book could possibly be demonstrated on a high-stakes test. In fact, if every pundit and politician were required to write this essay, perhaps they would be reminded just how important teachers were in their lives.

  • Darcy

    Linda, thank you for writing that you work 70 hours a week. That’s exactly how much I figure I work, and since I’m only a third-year teacher I sometimes wonder if I’m only working that much because I’m crazy. It’s good to know I’m not alone. I don’t know it how teachers with families do it either.

    Professor Gildersleeve, thank you for the honesty in your letter and for admitting that Race to the Top isn’t a real improvement. If I got anything out of my assessment course, I learned that good assessment theory demands we use multiple, varied sources of information to make good decisions, not just how students do on about 50 math and 50 reading questions over two weeks. It’s useful information, yes, but not enough to make “high-stakes” decisions. And can anyone explain to me the logic behind funding high-performing schools more than low-performing ones? Isn’t that like giving more medicine to healthy patients than sick ones? And I won’t be convinced that the funding is really supposed to motivate teachers and administrators; if that’s what lawmakers were thinking, what was their plan to motivate students to do their best on the test? They’re the ones doing the real work of learning!

  • Mary Kay

    Thank you to Carl Scariati for the articles about dismantling public education. I totally agree that this is where the discussion should be going. In the media the only person I have heard take on education is Ed Schultz. Maybe he can be talked into deeper reporting of this dangerous world view. I have believed for years,even before I became a teacher that the teacher and public school bashing comes from those who want it to fail to justify privatization. They thought public education was too expensive, let’s see how they like ignorance.

  • Pat

    I agree this job is much more than giving kids the information to learn… and it doesn’t need to be all kids on free or reduced lunch, or all kids with learning disabilities. Put 34 children in a room with 8 of them having extreme needs and it totally turns the class upside down. There are distractions, time away from teaching and helping, students not prepared, students not doing work outside of class, not coming to class with even a pencil, not confident enough to ask questions when they are confused, and we have to take time to reach each and every one of them. I see 158 students a day. How is it possible to reach out and pull them up to grade level when they come to me 3-4 years below grade level? I say, make the classes smaller, give us more time to teach instead of teach the test, and support us with positive media messages about learning. What TV show actually gets the message that learning is important across? How many TV shows actually put down people who are studious and intent on learning… ?? Oprah should be the first to help get the message out that success for students can’t all be placed on the shoulders of the teachers.

  • I applaud you professor! Nothing will change in education UNTIL we get all parents to realize that what they do and don’t do for their child does matter. Once again Oprah speaks with fork tongue! Maybe rating are down a bit . Hey I know let’s do a “bash teachers” show. That works.

  • Cindy

    Well said. Thank you. this isn’t a 40 hour-a-week ‘job’, it’s a lifestyle.

  • harriet mika

    GO LADY It is about time somebody stood up for classroom teachers. All this criticism by people who never stepped in a classroom from the teacher’s side of the destk make me a little crazy. I have been out for 18 years and I would not go back the way things are now. I had a great time as a high school social studies teacher and my students learned and have done well on the whole. But we had time to teach and not test all the time. I am sooo impressed with the responses here. I know how hard the job is and too find time to write such articulate responses. Some they should be sent to Oprah, Arnie and the President. He will never see them and the flood will wind up in the pile with other “letter writing campaigns” I know because I worked with White House Mail in the Clinton Administration. As to Arnie Duncan, he is a University of Chicago Laboratory School Graduate and, as I am, and as far as I know never saw the inside of Chicago Public School classroom until he became Chancellor. The Lab School is another world. It is also the school the Obama girls went too. When I went there it was part of the University of Chicago and the School of Ed was in the buildings. Now there is no School of Ed and the School is a completely separate entity. I agree with the person who wrote that all of this is basically designed to destroy public schools and privatized education.

  • Kim

    Thank you Britton Gildersleeve! If I watched Oprah, I would have said the same amount. I have been teaching for 8 years. I currently work in a school where most children live in section 8 housing. I have students come to me saying they did not eat dinner last night because there was either no food in the house or no one was there to feed them. I teach 2nd grade! Most of these students go home to either an empty house or to an older sibling who is busy with other things. I have seen what children can do with the support from the home side. I have a student who not only gets special ed services at school, but mom realizes she needs to do something on her end. That child was barely reading 15 words a minute. With the help of the school and support of her mom, she is now at 32 words a minute. Apparently we are gods! We can perform miracles. It takes more than just an hour a day to teach a student how to read!

  • Kimberly Montgomery

    I have been teaching for 24 years. Things have really changed. What happened to the days when teachers held some respect in the eyes of the public?

    Teachers, who attend college not just for a BA or BS degree but who also attend an extra year to complete credentialing and student teaching, are not worthy of being considered a professional. Why? Many even go on to get Graduate degrees (I have two Masters Degrees), and even we are not considered a professional in the eyes of the public. We are public servants, and as such we have no say even though we are the experts in our fields. It seems the term ’servant’ has been taken literally by those in our government who dictate to us how to do our job. I personally feel like I’ve been jumping for years through hoops at the whim of politicians pandering for votes who have no idea what it is like to be a teacher or to be in a classroom.

    I, like many other teachers, spend my summers and many ‘off’ days during the year creating new curriculum, and/or reworking lessons, in order to meet the needs of the varied learning levels in my classes. I love my job, but it is exhausting. Working with over 160 kids, at least 30 of whom are RSP with IEP’s, have 504s, or have been diagnosed with ADHD. I chose to take these kids because I know I can make a difference in their academic success. Another 30 are really struggling because they are so far behind. The rest are divided between the ones who care and will work, and those that don’t give a hoot about school and want to disrupt the learning process of others and my ability to teach.

    Along with developing curriculum to meet the needs of a varied population, comes assignments that need to be graded. I used to comment on the 160+ papers I grade, but do not comment nearly as much anymore because no matter what I say or do, a majority of my students look only at the score and never use the information given to fix it or to carry that information over to the next assignment. I do not enter a passing grade until they pass with 80% or higher on tests, so maybe next term I’ll make it everything, and not just tests, which means they will have no choice but to redo things (or do it well the first time) and pay attention to my comments. Who would have thought I’d have to do that to get kids to do more than just barely get by, which is enough for too many?

    Getting kids to do homework anymore is a Herculean task, and it is never anything new, always something they just need to finish. What happened to the days when a kid would never dream of talking back or not turning in their work?

    Let’s not even talk about what it is like to get kids to THINK. Many won’t even listen to directions being given, won’t reread them on their paper or the board after you’ve read it to them and explained it, and won’t follow them. Then, they act surprised when they are marked down for not reading and following the directions. They want to be spoon fed and given the answers, but I won’t do that. I tell them we are going to “Push through what is hard,” and find ways to find answers rather than being passive learners. They fight it for about the first half of the year until they realize, I am not backing down. Then all of a sudden, many of them turn the corner, but not all.

    Grades just came due for mid-terms. I’ve had only a handful of parents contact me about their student’s progress in class. That’s a problem, too. I have a website with my weekly agenda and handouts and resources, and I communicate with parents via email. I return calls promptly, and yet as the years pass, fewer and fewer parents seem interested until the very end of the year when it is time to graduate from 8th grade, and then they are up in arms about not knowing their child was doing so poorly, even though numerous notices were sent, and they want to know is there any extra credit? Really? Of course it doesn’t matter in the end because even though students may fail their classes, the only punishment is not crossing the stage. They will still be passed on to high school.

    The system our politicians have created has done our kids a grave disservice. We cannot continue to pass kids along who don’t have grade level skills, and NOT because their teachers are incompetent, but because teachers are swimming upstream as fast as they can against incredible odds in many cases. In elementary school, kids develop at different paces until they all start to catch up with each other in fourth grade. However, if students are not grade level by the end of third, they should not be passed on to the next grade. Decades of doing so has proven to be very harmful to our kids.

    We cannot hold kids back without an act of God it seems. Don’t want to hurt little Susie or Johnny’s self esteem. Well, imagine their feelings of self worth down the road when they can’t read or do basic math? If kids, who didn’t have their basic skills down by the end of third grade were not passed on to fourth grade where all those skills are built upon and things get harder, we’d have far fewer kids in middle school who test two or more grade levels below where they should be in reading and math. Let me tell you how sad it is to see kids giving up because they really can’t do the work. So, I,and so many of us, work even harder to assist those kids in being as successful as possible.

    Will all of them end up in college? No, nor should everyone end up in college. We are not all made of the same cloth, so why assume everyone wants to or needs to attend a four year university and get a BA/BS degree?
    Again, we have done our kids a disservice by treating them all the same. “You are all the chronological age to be in first grade, so you must all be ready for first grade”. False! Kids are not widgets in a factory made all the same way. Every child can learn and should be given all the educational opportunities available to challenge them, but we must be honest in admitting that educational opportunities need to fit the child.

    I am tired of defending my profession and hearing that education is in shambles. I’m tired of hearing that I don’t have a ‘real’ job because I have time off during the year. If I didn’t, I would have burned out a long time ago. I work very long hours. I do not just go home when the bell rings and show up the next day prepared to teach. I have meetings before and after school. I spend lunch time helping kids and often do not get to eat lunch. I’m lucky if I get to use the restroom. I prepare for the next day after any meetings I’ve attended, then I go home and grade papers (160 every time I assign something to assess whether skills and concepts are sinking in or not) until 11pm sometimes before going to bed in order to get up at 6am to start again. I am tired, but I wouldn’t give up my job for a higher paying less stressful job in the private sector, either. I am a public servant and proud to be of service to my community as a teacher. I want us to work together to reform education for the best interest of our kids, not corporations and politicians.

  • Maria

    Thanks for saying what thousands of us feel.
    I retired after 31 yrs. of elementary teaching because of administration problems and the six weeks worth of “testing” in a year that takes away from the “teaching” I used to do. Giving little ones only 20 min. of recess for the total day makes for antsy and disruptive kids, naturally. But that’s all we’re “allowed”. Our rooms have been 92 degrees and yet we’re suppose to keep “teaching”. Yet there is a federal program that ALL kids eat breakfast in the classroom, daily. That’s another 20-30 min. out of our “teaching” day.
    I retired, too early financially, because I couldn’t sell my soul anymore. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped “teaching” though. I go in to help “teach” one full day a week. (withOUT pay but to help the kids and my friends)
    I could write for hours but can now have “a life” without my teaching responsibilities taking up my time.

  • Kelli

    I would challenge anyone who is not a teacher TODAY to spend just one month teaching. I would bet my paycheck that they don’t last, let alone make a difference in the lives of their students. With diminishing resources available, frozen salaries for the last 3 years, and tougher challenges facing our students we are “expected” to put in double, triple, or quadruple the time “out of the goodness in our hearts”. Please do the math…. and thank you to Ms. Gildersleeve for pointing out that would be more than 80 hours a week. Plan periods? IEP’s, meetings, student make-up work, parent contacts….. that is why it’s midnight and I have just spent the last 4 hours of my Friday night updating my class website. The rest of my weekend will be trying to catch up with family….. and grading work that is over 2 weeks old. I do it because I love it, but a thank you once in a while would be nice!

  • george lazar

    I retired last year after 35 years of teaching industrial arts and special ed in an urban, difficult, community. I believe teaching is an art. One needs to have a talent for understanding and relating to people,patience and creativity along with the energy to continue the battle day after day. If new teachers can demonstrate these skills for some internship then they should be given the freedom of an artiest to ply their skills with student without fear.

  • lynne

    Thank you for writing this letter. It was definately needed and many of us felt exactly the way you do. Oprah missed this mark on this one!

  • Lisa Gelatt

    Very well stated! I have spent the last 30 years as a parent and volunteer in the public schools.
    I don’t think we should complain about something that we are not willing to do something about. Parents “dump” their children in the laps of the schools and don’t do anything except complain when they don’t like the outcome. We need to get involved and assist the teachers even when our children are grown. I am payng for these schools and it is my responsibility to get involved in the education of the future!!

  • Liz Strubbe

    Oprah’s show certainly made us finally speak up. I have never written a response before but could not just ignore this. Yes, there are teachers that should not be teaching; just like there are doctors, lawyers, electricians, etc. who should not be in there professions either. In 37 years I have seen both good, caring teachers and teachers who should never have entered the profession. Those bad apples don’t last…they usually leave as soon as they have the chance to do so. Others, through mentoring become wonderful teachers.
    Who does stay? Professionals who have to deal with opinionated people that know very little about teaching except that they were students at one time in their life. People who would not be in their professions if there had not been teachers in their lives. People who have nothing better to do than to bash professionals that earn by far less money than most professionals but work harder and more hours than most. It is very disappointing that Oprah did not give equal time to both sides of the topic. Oprah, do we get our time too?

  • jaymie

    “TEACHING IS THE PROFESSION THAT CREATES ALL OTHERS”!!! Help us create, not devistate!

  • Sarah B

    The reason I wasnt offered a contract after my first year of teaching was not because I was a “bad” teacher, it was because I did not do enough worksheets and I did not cater to the politics. The principal told me what a great job I did, how wonderful a teacher I was and then told me because I did not do as many worksheets as he wanted (6-7 per kid per day, 136 students) he was not going to offer me the contract he had for me on his desk. I told him that was fine and I was going to go be a firefighter! And I did! Now some decade later, I am working hard on my masters degree so I can do what was my passion all along.
    Tenure, as it exists in other states, doesnt exist in mine. The firing process is long and hard if you dont flat out break the law or hurt someone. It is what it is because of people like my first principal who have a game you have to play to be in his good graces. This same idiot put a woman with a masters degree in biology (she was certified in science and from Ohio) teaching state history (not Ohio by the way) because he wanted to as he said “be rid of her”. She taught history for 7 years at last count, before she finally retired.
    I worked in another underpaid profession, but was specialized enough to make about 30,000.00 a year. It was more than I would have made teaching with a BA or BS, but not as much as I will make with a MS or MA. I worked with the product of the “test test test” NCLB system and almost all of those guys were useless. They could not do basic tasks without constant supervision. Oh they could take a test, but practical application of skills took more time with these guys than it ever did with the newbies some 15 years ago. Its a mess what the NCLB has made in our schools, and I pray someone will give teachers a voice. I doubt its gonna be Oprah though.
    I have said it before and I will say it again, people, especally parents, have to stop blaming the teachers and take responsibility for the education of these kids in places where teachers arent, like home. As I reenter the educational relm I have discovered, much to my dismay, these kids are being raised by videogames and cable TV! There were kids like that when I taught before, but it seems so much more prevelant now.
    Oprah needs to spend some time in the school where I am practicum teaching. That would open her eyes.

  • Karen Detweiler

    The recent discussions about education that are being heard everywhere [Oprah, The View, NBC — extensive for days — and more] actually seem to be campaigns against teachers. Just about all we hear is that the problem with education is bad teachers: pay teachers according student test scores to get rid of bad teachers; we aren’t able to fire bad teachers; bad teachers are just moved to other schools [one network interviewee called it “the dance of the lemons”]. How can the problem be the fault of the teachers? Why is the discussion not broadened to include state departments of education, school district administrators, and parents? Where is the evaluation of these? If there are so many bad teachers, state departments of education and local school district administrations must have low licensing requirements, poor student teaching programs, poor supervision of student teachers, lack of mentoring, and no probationary period with remediation when necessary if so many bad teachers are hired and kept. I don’t believe there are many bad teachers. Teachers do not decide class size, curriculum, facilities, having assistants in large or early elementary classes, which students they have or the mix of students. None of the systems I worked in had a union or tenure,and all had a probationary period during which dismissal could occur at any time. I recently retired after 40 years of teaching and being a librarian in public education. I had contact and worked with teachers at all grade levels. I can count on my fingers the bad teachers I have seen [in different schools in different states] in all those years. The great majority of teachers are dedicated, conscientious, hard working, and caring [and they spend their own money on supplies, their own time and money on professional development/relicensing, and their own time on preparation, etc.]. Most of the bad teachers I have seen got promoted to administration, where they protected administration, cut items [such as teacher assistants, supply stipends, planning time, other staff so teachers had to have lunch duty, hall duty, and even double classes because there was no sub for an absent teacher], increased class size, and increased non-teaching duties as other staff positions were cut. When facilities, class sizes, materials, parent involvement, student abilities, and home situations all are equal, then possibly merit pay based on student test scores would be fair. In the last system I was in, we had “magnet” schools which students had to apply for. One was three miles from “my” school – it received an updated library with all new furniture, assistants, special materials, and other “perks”. Students wore uniforms, and parents and students had to sign contracts for participation/involvement, doing homework, etc. If the program and contract were not followed, the student was sent back to his/her zone school. Why is it OK to have different facilities, materials, standards, and support? These things should be equal for all. We had a student with severe behavior problems, so he was sent to the school with a special program for students with behavior problems. They could not handle him, so they sent him back to us – his zone school. One fourth grade class had all students reading below grade level and a fourth grade class across the hall had all students reading above grade level. The administration said the placements were random. Kindergarten classes had 27 students ages 4-6, some with severe adjustment problems, and many with inadequate pre-reading skills, and one teacher – no teacher assistant. You try it. Let’s stop the attacks on teachers and look at the entire system, especially top heavy, overpaid [in comparison to teachers] administrations.

  • Barbara

    I could write a novel about this subject but I will sum up my thoughts in several ways:

    * Teachers are the first ones to be blamed when things go wrong and the last to be thanked when things go right.

    * Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be a teacher because they have been a student–just like they know what it’s like to be a pilot because they’ve ridden in a plane.

  • Brittany Welch

    I just wanted to tell Britton Gildersleeve, IT IS ABOUT TIME! I am so thankful that there are people like you who aren’t afraid to speak their mind; no matter who you may be speaking to. I am not a teacher, but I am finishing my degree to become a teacher and I am already tired of hearing the bad raps that teachers receive.
    Thank you for standing up,

  • James Guier

    Well said. We are all part of the problem unless we speak up. Thank you.

  • Anne Appleyard

    I will join the thousands of other teachers who want to thank Britton. She said it well and thoroughly. Why can’t there be a forum of teachers on Oprah to tell what we’re going through? I’m tired of being bashed and blamed, and for once, I wish the ‘experts’ would come to the people who are really the EXPERTS– teachers– to get our input on what is working and what would make a difference for our students. We know because we live it and breathe it every day!

  • Bill

    Thank you, Britton Gildersleeve. You did an excellent job of presenting the facts and standing-up for us teachers and public education. You are definitely my heroine. I really admire and appreciate you for speaking up.
    I wish more of us were like you. It is time for us, teachers, to follow your lead.

    Many thanks to you and may God bless you.

  • Unfortunately, the current conversation regarding the state of American public education has been commandeered by an entrenched bureaucracy of administrators, politicians, and media pundits who have little practical knowledge or understanding of the teaching process. The truth about what is actually happening in our public school classrooms has been precluded from the debate. This is precisely my purpose for writing “It Simply Must Be Said—A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching.” While the book has been acclaimed by critics, teachers and general readership as a “must read” for anyone concerned with the state of our educational system, those in a position of influence on educational issues have shown little interest. Despite my sending or offering complimentary copies to most of the individuals on Oprah’s panel, as well as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein and Amanda Ripley, Journalism Online’s Steven Brill, and even President Obama, I haven’t received a single response. It seems as though the “blame teachers, tenure, and the unions” agenda is now so firmly established that any viewpoint deviating from this narrow focus is disregarded.
    While Davis Guggenheim’s film, “Waiting for Superman” has thankfully resulted in some pundits realizing that you can’t hold teachers accountable for everything, active public school teachers continue to be conspicuously absent from the “educational reform” discussion. As a practicing 34 year veteran teacher, it is terribly frustrating to have written a comprehensive book detailing the issues facing classroom teachers, including numerous recommendations for truly meaningful school reform, only to be ignored by those in power. If Foreword Clarion Reviews is correct in stating that “Warren’s is a voice that deserves to be heard in the national debate on the quality and progress of education,” I, like millions of others, am more than ready to participate.

  • Fred

    How the HECK has no one caught the blatant math error in her argument???? She clearly arrived at “83+ hours” by taking 200 students multiplied by 10 minutes to get 2000 minutes. She then divided 2000 minutes by 24 to get 83.33. However, there are not 24 minutes in an hour, there are 60 minutes in an hour. The real answer should be 33.33 hours.
    Yes, it is still unreasonable for us teachers to be asked to find an additional 33 hours in a week – we still have to sleep and take care of our kids, right? But as a math teacher I’m appalled this mistake slipped by in such a high-profile letter. Doesn’t make us look good!

  • Britton Gildersleeve, your letter is perfect, eloquent, and true. I saw both of the Oprah shows on education and I agree with you 100 percent.

    But the million dollar question is this: How DO we get teachers in front of a national audience? How DO we take the reins in the education “reform” conversation? I am a former high school teacher. I left the classroom to pursue a career in journalism. For seven years I wrote a weekly newspaper column about education, from a teacher’s point of view. I researched education policy and talked to teachers all over the country, and it is crystal clear to me that teachers need to step up and assert themselves. The thing is, with NCLB and all of the resulting paperwork and documentation requirements, teachers have less time than ever to advocate for their profession.
    Kelly Flynn, author of Kids, Classrooms, and Capitol Hill: A Peek Inside the Walls of America’s Public Schools

  • Susan

    Cathy Coates’ story should be the national movie made named “Waiting for the Truth”

    Does the public realize our Special Educators are not helping teachers? An aid to sit with a student and do their work for them doesn’t count.

    Does the public know that proportionately most of new dollars in education funding is not going to general education (thus, how can we expect improvement), but rather “most of the real increase in school spending has not been on increasing the resources of schools’ regular academic programs. Rather, larger increases were devoted to special education, a program that consumed very few dollars in 1967. The conventional argument—that there has been a productivity collapse in elementary and secondary education because funds have increased without a corresponding improvement in academic outcomes—we concluded is flawed. It is unreasonable to expect additional funds to produce higher academic achievement for regular students if the additional funds have been directed to students with special needs.”

    and here is another article that also points this out:

    If the public is outraged by the soaring costs of education, and the general population of students poorly demonstrated achievement scores, then perhaps they should spend a day in school today. Schools today are not your mother’s (or daddy’s) schools. But alas, I of course know this can’t happen because conveniently, no one from the outside is allowed in our classrooms without a background check. That should tell you something right there. But yet, these are the same people telling how to do our jobs.

    I vote for getting public school funding decisions out of the general public, since they can not and do not know what is truly happening inside our classrooms and what teachers truly do.

  • I just saw Waiting for Superman, and I agree it was inordinately hard on teachers. But what I learned about the teachers union (if it is true) does disturb me. Tenure after 2 years? The processing for firing bad teachers? Teachers in my state (Michigan) enjoy better benfits and job security than most other professionals. Nurses may have slightly higher salaries, but they work 12 months of the year with maybe 3 weeks of vacation.
    I think of myself as very pro-teacher. My parents were both teachers. I went to college with the intent to become a teacher. The bleak job market in the early 90’s lead me into Speech Pathology. I did do student teaching and an internship in a public school. Our state no longer requires a teaching certificate to be a SLP in the schools. I work in a medical setting.
    I have many friends who are teachers, and none of them spend their entire summer off working on projects, and are able to spend most major Holidays with their kids. My friends are hard-working teachers, but if anyone even hints at some things that could make education more effective (longer school year, taking a look at union contracts, merit based pay) they get irate.

    I work in health care, so I understand overly bereaucratic management systems, having third parties dictate my professional practice (insurance), and ridiculous productivity standards. I am not necessarily rewarded in my performance reviews for being a good clinicians, but how many horses I can get through the gate during a given day.

    I am sincerely interested in hearing teachers ideas about implementing accountability within their profession?

  • Kent

    I have taught in the prison system some 25 years.Some of the male inmates could
    barely read or write.They had Pre-k or no education.Some from larger,small school’s.Education start at home than in the school system,teacher’s spend a fortune on their education to teach.In my opinion teacher’s are high paid baby setters,counselors,mother’s,father’s,granny’s,bankers,you name it teachers are doing it in the classroom.Other than what they choice to do and that’s to educate
    young,elderly,adults.May it be post secondary,k-12,higher education.To say being ruffed up,threaten,dealing with ill manner student’s & parent’s,O the list can go on yet those of us who love to teach battle to teach.Am writing this from a classroom public & vocational school sitting not a prison classroom which its somewhat totally different sitting.Yet as a parent and teacher which are missed used,under paid,misunderstood,escaped goats,blamed for everything under the sun when it comes to educational (TEACHER’S)
    When school’s system places Fear and handcuffs also label teacher’s ability to teach what is she/he to do in the classroom?

  • Carla

    Things I have done in ONE day, as a teacher…
    Today I…
    Administered first aid
    taught PE
    Gave a kid breakfast
    gave psychological support to kids and overworked colleagues
    tied a shoe
    taught a group of girls that teasing hurts
    comforted someone with a family loss
    taught my class of fourth-graders how their government works
    taught a girl with no English how to read a bit better
    explained why it’s not ok to call someone a racial slur
    reviewed basic math concepts every human should know
    introduced the art of Remington
    raised the self esteem of a boy who thought no one cared
    hugged and waved at over 15 students I’ve never had in class, but know me
    told jokes to keep kids engaged
    assured a parent that there was hope, even with severe vision problems
    told a past parent I would be available for help
    dressed up and showed up after work for a Halloween event because my kids wanted to see me
    demonstrated how to write legibly and carefully
    had NO prep time
    worked during lunch
    realized that I haven’t had a raise all year
    kept teaching with a raspy voice-did not stay home
    paid for my own materials
    paid more for health coverage-can no longer go to any doctor I want
    showed love and respect, and gave my all to 29 future adults
    remembered that I have adored all 400+ students I have ever had


  • What would you do if you had the money of Gates and/or Oprah? Many of us would not be trying to revamp education for a future they may not live to see. These people are the heroes. Help them get it right. Don’t stand in their way. You need to read “Why do we need to score points with teachers?” on my blog. It addresses all the belly-acher teachers complaining when they are held accountable for their JOB. It is your JOB. If you don’t like wiping runny noses or having to call parents at night, don’t do it. Get another JOB. There are working parents who are up all night with their own sick kids and then making calls at work with a baby at their breast. Teachers are not the victims they make themselves out to be. No excuses for teachers anymore. Do your JOB and be held accountable or do another job. Plus, we need better pay for teachers and only 12 students in each class. That would solve many problems.

  • Michelle

    I disagree with this woman about tenure . We have been trying to get rid of a bad teacher in one of our schools and after 5 years, we still cannot. They just keep moving her around and kids are basically losing a year at their primary level. Sorry. but that is wrong. Or how about teachers who will not do any activities out of their “contract” hours for students. Including PTA events. The kids notice and feel bad. I have seen very few go above and beyond. Most of those who do, are old school..over 50!!!

    That being said, I find it disheartening that teachers have very little say in our education system at all.

  • Heather

    I would really like to hear Oprah’s response to this letter. It surprises me that she didn’t invite teachers to be part of the panel on her show. She has said many times over the years that if she hadn’t gone into journalism, she would have become a teacher. So why isn’t she asking for the opinions of teachers?

  • Ronnie

    Has Oprah responded? No. She needs to. She once said that she was pro-teacher. I’m sick of the negative media attention we get at educators. Without tenure and the NEA, I would have been fired four years ago because the principal and assistant superintendant aligned themselves with conservative board members who didn’t want an out gay teacher in the district where I teach district. I’m a good teacher, but my sexuality put an unneeded target on my back. They made my life hell for about two months until the NEA fought back and called off the dogs. Thankfully I continue to be a role model in a district finally rid of of bad leadership.

  • Karen Larson

    The New York Times Book Review posted an excellent summary of the book, “The Myth of Charter Schools.” Check it out. The charter school is the current threat to public teaching, teachers’ unions, and teachers’ rights. Arm yourself with the facts and bust up the myths of charter schools with this book or even the review.The Myth of Charter Schools
    November 11, 2010
    Diane Ravitch
    Anthony, a fifth-grade student hoping to win a spot at the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C.; from Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’
    Ordinarily, documentaries about education attract little attention, and seldom, if ever, reach neighborhood movie theaters. Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” is different. It arrived in late September with the biggest publicity splash I have ever seen for a documentary. Not only was it the subject of major stories in Time and New York, but it was featured twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was the centerpiece of several days of programming by NBC, including an interview with President Obama.
    Two other films expounding the same arguments—The Lottery and The Cartel—were released in the late spring, but they received far less attention than Guggenheim’s film. His reputation as the director of the Academy Award–winning An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming, contributed to the anticipation surrounding Waiting for “Superman,” but the media frenzy suggested something more. Guggenheim presents the popularized version of an account of American public education that is promoted by some of the nation’s most powerful figures and institutions.
    The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit.
    The Cartel maintains that we must not only create more charter schools, but provide vouchers so that children can flee incompetent public schools and attend private schools. There, we are led to believe, teachers will be caring and highly skilled (unlike the lazy dullards in public schools); the schools will have high expectations and test scores will soar; and all children will succeed academically, regardless of their circumstances. The Lottery echoes the main story line of Waiting for “Superman”: it is about children who are desperate to avoid the New York City public schools and eager to win a spot in a shiny new charter school in Harlem.
    For many people, these arguments require a willing suspension of disbelief. Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.
    Waiting for “Superman” and the other films appeal to a broad apprehension that the nation is falling behind in global competition. If the economy is a shambles, if poverty persists for significant segments of the population, if American kids are not as serious about their studies as their peers in other nations, the schools must be to blame. At last we have the culprit on which we can pin our anger, our palpable sense that something is very wrong with our society, that we are on the wrong track, and that America is losing the race for global dominance. It is not globalization or deindustrialization or poverty or our coarse popular culture or predatory financial practices that bear responsibility: it’s the public schools, their teachers, and their unions.
    The inspiration for Waiting for “Superman” began, Guggenheim explains, as he drove his own children to a private school, past the neighborhood schools with low test scores. He wondered about the fate of the children whose families did not have the choice of schools available to his own children. What was the quality of their education? He was sure it must be terrible. The press release for the film says that he wondered, “How heartsick and worried did their parents feel as they dropped their kids off this morning?” Guggenheim is a graduate of Sidwell Friends, the elite private school in Washington, D.C., where President Obama’s daughters are enrolled. The public schools that he passed by each morning must have seemed as hopeless and dreadful to him as the public schools in Washington that his own parents had shunned.
    Waiting for “Superman” tells the story of five children who enter a lottery to win a coveted place in a charter school. Four of them seek to escape the public schools; one was asked to leave a Catholic school because her mother couldn’t afford the tuition. Four of the children are black or Hispanic and live in gritty neighborhoods, while the one white child lives in a leafy suburb. We come to know each of these children and their families; we learn about their dreams for the future; we see that they are lovable; and we identify with them. By the end of the film, we are rooting for them as the day of the lottery approaches.
    In each of the schools to which they have applied, the odds against them are large. Anthony, a fifth-grader in Washington, D.C., applies to the SEED charter boarding school, where there are sixty-one applicants for twenty-four places. Francisco is a first-grade student in the Bronx whose mother (a social worker with a graduate degree) is desperate to get him out of the New York City public schools and into a charter school; she applies to Harlem Success Academy where he is one of 792 applicants for forty places. Bianca is the kindergarten student in Harlem whose mother cannot afford Catholic school tuition; she enters the lottery at another Harlem Success Academy, as one of 767 students competing for thirty-five openings. Daisy is a fifth-grade student in East Los Angeles whose parents hope she can win a spot at KIPP LA PREP, where 135 students have applied for ten places. Emily is an eighth-grade student in Silicon Valley, where the local high school has gorgeous facilities, high graduation rates, and impressive test scores, but her family worries that she will be assigned to a slow track because of her low test scores; so they enter the lottery for Summit Preparatory Charter High School, where she is one of 455 students competing for 110 places.
    The stars of the film are Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a broad variety of social services to families and children and runs two charter schools; Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system, who closed schools, fired teachers and principals, and gained a national reputation for her tough policies; David Levin and Michael Feinberg, who have built a network of nearly one hundred high-performing KIPP charter schools over the past sixteen years; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is cast in the role of chief villain. Other charter school leaders, like Steve Barr of the Green Dot chain in Los Angeles, do star turns, as does Bill Gates of Microsoft, whose foundation has invested many millions of dollars in expanding the number of charter schools. No successful public school teacher or principal or superintendent appears in the film; indeed there is no mention of any successful public school, only the incessant drumbeat on the theme of public school failure.
    The situation is dire, the film warns us. We must act. But what must we do? The message of the film is clear. Public schools are bad, privately managed charter schools are good. Parents clamor to get their children out of the public schools in New York City (despite the claims by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the city’s schools are better than ever) and into the charters (the mayor also plans to double the number of charters, to help more families escape from the public schools that he controls). If we could fire the bottom 5 to 10 percent of the lowest-performing teachers every year, says Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek in the film, our national test scores would soon approach the top of international rankings in mathematics and science.
    Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?
    The propagandistic nature of Waiting for “Superman” is revealed by Guggenheim’s complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools. There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools. Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools? Why did he not report on the charter principals who have been indicted for embezzlement, or the charters that blur the line between church and state? Why did he not look into the charter schools whose leaders are paid $300,000–$400,000 a year to oversee small numbers of schools and students?
    Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores. He shows us footage of the pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, to the amazement of people who said it couldn’t be done. Since Yeager broke the sound barrier, we should be prepared to believe that able teachers are all it takes to overcome the disadvantages of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, poor nutrition, absent parents, etc.
    The movie asserts a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.
    But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.
    Guggenheim skirts the issue of poverty by showing only families that are intact and dedicated to helping their children succeed. One of the children he follows is raised by a doting grandmother; two have single mothers who are relentless in seeking better education for them; two of them live with a mother and father. Nothing is said about children whose families are not available, for whatever reason, to support them, or about children who are homeless, or children with special needs. Nor is there any reference to the many charter schools that enroll disproportionately small numbers of children who are English-language learners or have disabilities.
    The film never acknowledges that charter schools were created mainly at the instigation of Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997. Shanker had the idea in 1988 that a group of public school teachers would ask their colleagues for permission to create a small school that would focus on the neediest students, those who had dropped out and those who were disengaged from school and likely to drop out. He sold the idea as a way to open schools that would collaborate with public schools and help motivate disengaged students. In 1993, Shanker turned against the charter school idea when he realized that for-profit organizations saw it as a business opportunity and were advancing an agenda of school privatization. Michelle Rhee gained her teaching experience in Baltimore as an employee of Education Alternatives, Inc., one of the first of the for-profit operations.
    Today, charter schools are promoted not as ways to collaborate with public schools but as competitors that will force them to get better or go out of business. In fact, they have become the force for privatization that Shanker feared. Because of the high-stakes testing regime created by President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, charter schools compete to get higher test scores than regular public schools and thus have an incentive to avoid students who might pull down their scores. Under NCLB, low-performing schools may be closed, while high-performing ones may get bonuses. Some charter schools “counsel out” or expel students just before state testing day. Some have high attrition rates, especially among lower-performing students.
    Perhaps the greatest distortion in this film is its misrepresentation of data about student academic performance. The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level. This is flatly wrong. Guggenheim here relies on numbers drawn from the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years, and I know how misleading Guggenheim’s figures are. NAEP doesn’t measure performance in terms of grade-level achievement. The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade. The film assumes that any student below proficient is “below grade level.” But it would be far more fitting to worry about students who are “below basic,” who are 25 percent of the national sample, not 70 percent.
    Guggenheim didn’t bother to take a close look at the heroes of his documentary. Geoffrey Canada is justly celebrated for the creation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which not only runs two charter schools but surrounds children and their families with a broad array of social and medical services. Canada has a board of wealthy philanthropists and a very successful fund-raising apparatus. With assets of more than $200 million, his organization has no shortage of funds. Canada himself is currently paid $400,000 annually. For Guggenheim to praise Canada while also claiming that public schools don’t need any more money is bizarre. Canada’s charter schools get better results than nearby public schools serving impoverished students. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, they might get the same good results.
    But contrary to the myth that Guggenheim propounds about “amazing results,” even Geoffrey Canada’s schools have many students who are not proficient. On the 2010 state tests, 60 percent of the fourth-grade students in one of his charter schools were not proficient in reading, nor were 50 percent in the other. It should be noted—and Guggenheim didn’t note it—that Canada kicked out his entire first class of middle school students when they didn’t get good enough test scores to satisfy his board of trustees. This sad event was documented by Paul Tough in his laudatory account of Canada’s Har- lem Children’s Zone, Whatever It Takes (2009). Contrary to Guggenheim’s mythology, even the best-funded charters, with the finest services, can’t completely negate the effects of poverty.
    Guggenheim ignored other clues that might have gotten in the way of a good story. While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force. His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students. Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers. It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5–10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. Finland has a national curriculum, which is not restricted to the basic skills of reading and math, but includes the arts, sciences, history, foreign languages, and other subjects that are essential to a good, rounded education. Finland also strengthened its social welfare programs for children and families. Guggenheim simply ignores the realities of the Finnish system.
    In any school reform proposal, the question of “scalability” always arises. Can reforms be reproduced on a broad scale? The fact that one school produces amazing results is not in itself a demonstration that every other school can do the same. For example, Guggenheim holds up Locke High School in Los Angeles, part of the Green Dot charter chain, as a success story but does not tell the whole story. With an infusion of $15 million of mostly private funding, Green Dot produced a safer, cleaner campus, but no more than tiny improvements in its students’ abysmal test scores. According to the Los Angeles Times, the percentage of its students proficient in English rose from 13.7 percent in 2009 to 14.9 percent in 2010, while in math the proportion of proficient students grew from 4 percent to 6.7 percent. What can be learned from this small progress? Becoming a charter is no guarantee that a school serving a tough neighborhood will produce educational miracles.
    Another highly praised school that is featured in the film is the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C. SEED seems to deserve all the praise that it receives from Guggenheim, CBS’s 60 Minutes, and elsewhere. It has remarkable rates of graduation and college acceptance. But SEED spends $35,000 per student, as compared to average current spending for public schools of about one third that amount. Is our society prepared to open boarding schools for tens of thousands of inner-city students and pay what it costs to copy the SEED model? Those who claim that better education for the neediest students won’t require more money cannot use SEED to support their argument.
    Guggenheim seems to demand that public schools start firing “bad” teachers so they can get the great results that one of every five charter schools gets. But he never explains how difficult it is to identify “bad” teachers. If one looks only at test scores, teachers in affluent suburbs get higher ones. If one uses student gains or losses as a general measure, then those who teach the neediest children—English-language learners, troubled students, autistic students—will see the smallest gains, and teachers will have an incentive to avoid districts and classes with large numbers of the neediest students.
    Ultimately the job of hiring teachers, evaluating them, and deciding who should stay and who should go falls to administrators. We should be taking a close look at those who award due process rights (the accurate term for “tenure”) to too many incompetent teachers. The best way to ensure that there are no bad or ineffective teachers in our public schools is to insist that we have principals and supervisors who are knowledgeable and experienced educators. Yet there is currently a vogue to recruit and train principals who have little or no education experience. (The George W. Bush Institute just announced its intention to train 50,000 new principals in the next decade and to recruit noneducators for this sensitive post.)
    Waiting for “Superman” is the most important public-relations coup that the critics of public education have made so far. Their power is not to be underestimated. For years, right-wing critics demanded vouchers and got nowhere. Now, many of them are watching in amazement as their ineffectual attacks on “government schools” and their advocacy of privately managed schools with public funding have become the received wisdom among liberal elites. Despite their uneven record, charter schools have the enthusiastic endorsement of the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Dell Foundation. In recent months, The New York Times has published three stories about how charter schools have become the favorite cause of hedge fund executives. According to the Times, when Andrew Cuomo wanted to tap into Wall Street money for his gubernatorial campaign, he had to meet with the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a pro-charter group.
    Dominated by hedge fund managers who control billions of dollars, DFER has contributed heavily to political candidates for local and state offices who pledge to promote charter schools. (Its efforts to unseat incumbents in three predominantly black State Senate districts in New York City came to nothing; none of its hand-picked candidates received as much as 30 percent of the vote in the primary elections, even with the full-throated endorsement of the city’s tabloids.) Despite the loss of local elections and the defeat of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (who had appointed the controversial schools chancellor Michelle Rhee), the combined clout of these groups, plus the enormous power of the federal government and the uncritical support of the major media, presents a serious challenge to the viability and future of public education.
    It bears mentioning that nations with high-performing school systems—whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan—have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do. Fewer than 5 percent of children in Finland live in poverty, as compared to 20 percent in the United States. Those who insist that poverty doesn’t matter, that only teachers matter, prefer to ignore such contrasts.
    If we are serious about improving our schools, we will take steps to improve our teacher force, as Finland and other nations have done. That would mean better screening to select the best candidates, higher salaries, better support and mentoring systems, and better working conditions. Guggenheim complains that only one in 2,500 teachers loses his or her teaching certificate, but fails to mention that 50 percent of those who enter teaching leave within five years, mostly because of poor working conditions, lack of adequate resources, and the stress of dealing with difficult children and disrespectful parents. Some who leave “fire themselves”; others were fired before they got tenure. We should also insist that only highly experienced teachers become principals (the “head teacher” in the school), not retired businessmen and military personnel. Every school should have a curriculum that includes a full range of studies, not just basic skills. And if we really are intent on school improvement, we must reduce the appalling rates of child poverty that impede success in school and in life.
    There is a clash of ideas occurring in education right now between those who believe that public education is not only a fundamental right but a vital public service, akin to the public provision of police, fire protection, parks, and public libraries, and those who believe that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. Waiting for “Superman” is a powerful weapon on behalf of those championing the “free market” and privatization. It raises important questions, but all of the answers it offers require a transfer of public funds to the private sector. The stock market crash of 2008 should suffice to remind us that the managers of the private sector do not have a monopoly on success.
    Public education is one of the cornerstones of American democracy. The public schools must accept everyone who appears at their doors, no matter their race, language, economic status, or disability. Like the huddled masses who arrived from Europe in years gone by, immigrants from across the world today turn to the public schools to learn what they need to know to become part of this society. The schools should be far better than they are now, but privatizing them is no solution.
    In the final moments of Waiting for “Superman,” the children and their parents assemble in auditoriums in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley, waiting nervously to see if they will win the lottery. As the camera pans the room, you see tears rolling down the cheeks of children and adults alike, all their hopes focused on a listing of numbers or names. Many people react to the scene with their own tears, sad for the children who lose. I had a different reaction. First, I thought to myself that the charter operators were cynically using children as political pawns in their own campaign to promote their cause. (Gail Collins in The New York Times had a similar reaction and wondered why they couldn’t just send the families a letter in the mail instead of subjecting them to public rejection.) Second, I felt an immense sense of gratitude to the much-maligned American public education system, where no one has to win a lottery to gain admission.

  • Patrick Sarsfield

    “Would you have a conversation about the national state of medicine and health care without asking for the input of doctors, nurses and patients?”

    And yet, that’s just what we did (at least, we opted not to listen in any meaningful way…just bribed the AMA which represents only 10% of the nation’s doctors, to go along with it)

  • >I wish someone who knew even a little bit about real classrooms, the heart-breaking challenges teachers face daily (teachers spend an average of $400 annually, out of their own meager salaries, to equip their rooms), had a national forum.

    I’ve been trying to get one started, but have inadequate computer resources and no $ for getting this out there.

    the title says “Iowa,” but it’s intended to be national, just as the Iowa Cauacuses every four years are, in a sense, a national forum on politics.

  • Steve Gilmore

    My 13 year old triplets are currently attending a charter school in NC. It is absolutely the best learning environment that they could possibly have. They have their own curriculum and will not teach to the state and national tests. They have such diversity in their curriculum and tremendous parental support.

    Teachers there are excellent but not any better than other teachers around the country. Usually in city and county school systems, teachers face disrespect and have no input on the curriculum being taught. There is also a far lower rate of parental involvement. Violence is a part of daily life. Teachers cannot be a surrogate parent. There are too many children having children and too many births from people that cannot afford it. Until our society that is largely entitlement driven can prevent this, we will be seeing this only get worse.

  • B. Walker

    I’m beginning to realize that all the people outside the field of education as well as those inside that don’t really have a clue what it takes to teach a classroom (Michelle Rhee) are probably not as stupid as they at first seem. The attacks on our teachers as well as these “fix it all” programs such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” are, I believe, a long range plan to “dumb down” our society! How else is the U.S. labor market supposed to compete with 3rd world labor markets paying children pennies a day to produce virtually everything we use each day?

    In twenty years or less children won’t know what they’re missing in the educational process. They will know how their school did on their Race to the Top tests because the principals will be richly rewarded and they may get a sticker acknowledging their “success” as determined by the official “dumb down society” criteria. But sadly, they won’t know the history of this nation and how our government is supposed to work or who wrote the Gettysburg Address. “By the way,” they’ll ask, “who’s that guy Walt Whitman and what did he ever do? George Washington Carver, oh he was a politician a long time ago.” they’ll mutter.

    They will however, be able to work the hound out of some machine in a factory making less than minimum wage. (They’re beating out the children of Mexico, Guatemala, Pakistan & Cambodia at that point whose older relatives came into this country to teach us how to do it) “Who needs college? This is hard cash man! After another 25 years I’ll nearly have my mobile home paid off! I may even buy a car!”

    Yeah, the critics of our educational system are right on track and our nation is racing towards full employment for all! Whoopie.

  • Tivon Thurman

    I have been teaching for nine years, and I can honestly say that I am happy that Britton Gildersleeve wrote this much needed letter. I have taught in the inner cities of Detroit, and in the college town atmosphere. I notice how easy it is for people who don’t teach, or have never taught are quick to blame teachers, and quick to say we make too much money. It is really depressing, because every good teacher that I have known, including myself has put countless amounts of hours, money and time into teaching. We put up with a lot from Administration, and then the senate wants to diminish our tenure. We put up with attitudes from our beloved students daily, and all we want them to do is study outside of school more. When I was in Detroit and coaching basketball, I had to put up with the fact that most parents wouldn’t, or couldn’t pick up there students after basketball practice was over, so I had to drop them off so they wouldn’t get harmed in the dark, cold Detroit streets. I had to put up with hostile parents, for miscommunication issues, after I repeatedly left them voicemail messages and e-mails regarding their student’s behavior and lack of effort. We have to put up with the counties voting “no” on the millage that would guarantee funds and resources for our students. We have to put up with constant changes from Administrators who change policies so fast, we don’t even know if the old one would have solved the original problem. We have to do professional development seminars all of the time, and still plan our lessons for the next day. New teachers have to put up with lay-off threats because older teachers are afraid to retire because of the economy. I can go on and on about what we have to put up with, but the part that hurts me the most is when people see us as the problem to a “village wide” problem. Please take the time to talk to a teacher in your life the next time a vote comes around that can assure educators resources. Please talk to a teacher the next time someone bashes them at the dinner discussions. People who don’t teach should try it out someday.

    I wish I had more to say but I ran out of time.


  • It’s very hard to pinpoint all the difficulties concerning the education in the United States. Once we have completed the education process, we move on to our careers and other goals in life. We can only remember are own personal experiences as students ourselves. So we can only compare and/or contrast education based on prior experiences if we aren’t in the field of education.
    The people that are so critical never stop to think how they got where they are. It was by a teacher. All or most of whom they have now admittingly dispise. Oh well, they may have one good teacher. Le’ts be fair here.
    Here are some misconceptions I have noticed in the 25+ years I have taught:

    1. We compare our student’s achievement to other nations because we compare and contrast the quality of our schools among all other schools in our nation. Granted research tells our nation we are producing young adults that are lower academically than other first rate world nations…. this must be a sign the US isn’t doing their job. Even though we are heterogenous country with multiple diversities— no problem here. Super Teacher to the rescue.
    2. Public schools are the worst schools for our children to attend.
    3. School teachers are for the most part the major problem with academic achievement. After all they can’t produce children of their own so they really don’t understand the need for educating others.
    4. There are adequate resources for students to reach their potential in all our public schools that’s why we pay taxes.
    5. All public schools have the same access to adequate resources regardless if they are federally funded for the most part, charter schools, or just plain old public schools anywhere in a given location.
    6. Parents, community, businesses, and individuals are doing all they can to make school the best place for learning for our children. This is evident anytime you visit a school especially in grades 9-12.
    7. Students are eager to achieve academic excellence. They are aware of the value of academic achievement and the important role it place in adult life. Our country stresses this.
    8. We, the US citizens, look for ways in which we instill the value of education in all areas of life for the betterment of our future generations. This is done in obvious and not so obvious ways.
    9. We understand that rewards for achievement are not a quick gratifying process and we exemplify this in our culture at large.
    10. We, citizens of the US, try not to place blame on one entity for our short-comings but try to address problems with workable solutions to bring positive change to the academic situation at large.
    11. Technology and money will make sure students continue to stay in school and learn.
    12. When students pass the state examinations, they have a greater chance of be successful in life overall. At least if they pass the tests, teachers won’t get fired…two problems solved.
    13. All public schools are created equal so it’s got to be the faculty not the, staff, school board, state official, parent, community, businesses and/or the feds if things just don’t go as planned. After all, in all our public schools, parents, community leaders get first hand assessment of their input in children in their schools.

    And I guess that’s all I have to say about how I think some view education. So if any one thinks we have fallen short in an area, you need to let the designated people know about it. Since I missed the show did Oprah address these issues???

  • Great letter!! . I do not believe there is another profession like teaching that involves someone taking on several tasks as being a teacher,coach ,substitute parent, and guidance counselor and more .It does not end when the bell rings ,but it can last a lifetime.Some students come back as a colleagues and become friends ,because someone touched their lives and they decided to to become a teacher also.It is great to be a teacher when your older students come back to tell you how well they are doing ,things like this make teaching worth while if you are not teacher I guess you will never understand.

  • Beth Magazzo

    What was Oprah’s response? Any?

  • A. Gabriel

    There are obviously some good, even great teachers. However, after spending 32 years of my life teaching in public schools, the truth is that many teachers are just plain lousy, there for summers off, and who have no business working with children. I watched this no matter where I worked. Unfortunately, nothing is ever done to remove this individuals. “Tenure” protects them and that is wrong.
    Teachers can’t possibly be very good if they are liberal democrats. As for the person who attacked Fox news, it is Fox that gives us the straight news that MSNBC refuses to do. If that teacher is representative of teachers in general, we are in big trouble.

  • A. Gabriel

    Charter schools are usually great! It’s time to undo the pathetic unions; they create problems and do damage. Oprah has some good points, I must admit, although I am not very fond of her as a rule. I think it is tough for teachers to accept constructive criticism. Good administrators should be living in their class rooms. Often, people teach because of their insecurities and they can do nothing else. Sad fact but true.

  • A. Gabriel

    to Karen Larsen: blah! blah! blah!

  • A. Gabriel

    It seems to me that teachers in general are an unhappy, angry lot. Why do they stay in a profession they obviously dislike and complain about????????A fair question, don’t you think?

  • Lisa

    I, too, teach at the college level. Unless you live with me, you would have no idea how many hours are spent on preparing lectures, creating/grading exams, advising students, committee work, and the ever present ‘publish or perish’ looming over you. Certainly, we have ‘all that time off!!!!’ But in all honesty, I’ve never had an entire week during the course of my six years of teaching during which I didn’t have to open my laptop, respond to student emails (yes, in the summer, too), deal with parent phone calls (you heard that right..even in college!) work on projects, write articles, or tweak my syllabi. This is NOT a 40 hour week…not even close! I do it because I love it, but it gets harder every year with new demands on our time, new technology to learn, and students who require more ‘motivation’. When I stop loving what I do, I’ll quit teaching. I hope its not for many more years.

  • Karla Keller

    Wow! Well said Britton! I also want a clear explanation of why I am to blame for a student not making progress when that student takes a 3week vacation just prior to testing. Tell me why a student with a diagnosed brain injury that cannot read more then 10words per minute does not qualify for special services in third grade. How about the girl who was molested in the weeks just prior to testing but had to test or the school would be accused of holding students out of testing? Our country is filled with these stories. Yes there are some bad teachers, bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad police officers, even bad clergy. But we all know, deep down, that blaming, name calling hurts innocent bystanders as often as the targets.

  • J Rho

    I must say I am surprised that Oprah did such an episode. Usually, she is very supportive regarding teachers in our nation. Since I am a teacher (and at work during this time), I did not watch the episode but wish I would have!
    This is my 13th teaching and have taught several grade levels. 6th grade for 5 years, 5th grade for 4 years and going on 4 in 3rd grade. It is disheartening to see how poorly our nation views our teachers! I work very long hours every week and on the weekends, spend ALOT of my own money for my classroom and work hard to engage my students each day, each year. I also have a Masters’ degree that I earned while teaching in the classroom. Yes, being a public school teacher is a lot of work but it just so upsetting when we are not treated as professionals. I teach in a higher income school district now (but I haven’t always) and it just burns me when parents come in and tell me how to do my job. I don’t go to their office or home and try to tell them how to do their job. We just want to be recognized as professionals…as we are.
    Also, a growing disturbing trend I have noticed is that more and more, my students don’t want to THINK. They don’t read directions, nor listen to directions after being explained 2-3 times. They (and many of their parents) expect to be spoon-fed. I feel sorry for these kids because when they become adults, that attitude won’t cut it in a career!
    Please Oprah, as Ms. Gildersleeve stated, please ASK teachers their opinion when you want to know and portray our daily lives..…not stuffy politicians/whatever (really?? taping a students mouth shut??? is she on crack?!??) or musicians.
    I am disappointed in you Oprah FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER…shame on you!

  • Renee

    I too enjoy watching Oprah, as I am originally from the Chicago area. However, I do agree that education and what is expected from teachers has changed dramatically and the sentiments that were portrayed on this particular episode were not accurate or fair. I graduated college with a teaching degree and taught for seven years. Most of those years, I worked every minute outside of school to create the best learning environment possible for my students. Unfortunately, I was met with resistant administrators, parents, and students. Since it was greatly affecting my personal life, I chose to make a change this year. I left teaching and returned to school to study a completely different field. It makes me sad that I was not able to stay in education, because I come from a family of educators and I enjoyed seeing the positive gains I did make with my students. However, I know that many other effective teachers are leaving the profession because they are not treated fairly and are sometimes put in dangerous situations. Hopefully, this will change in the future with these small steps, including this letter to Oprah and others stepping up to be effective change agents.

  • Sandra Kunz

    Dearest Oprah….I finally had time to sit and read my current NEA Today and Ms. Gildersleeve’s response to your show regarding….”Waiting For Superman.” Let me tell you, TOOTS, Superman has landed in every responsible, caring and GOOD teacher’s classroom in this country. I’ve watched you for 25 years…I’m a fan….I’m just surprised that anyone with any level of intelligence would pass such judgment without taking time to talk to teachers in each state, rich and poor district….administrators or even custodians around the country to see what we are doing for kids. I feel blessed that with all I am required to do, and it’s a lot and changing all the time, I still love my job, love my students and I’m dedicated to my profession and my colleagues. Please take time to understand that Superman is a fictional character and the real heroes are the educators who spend time and money (their own) to assist each child’s need to so that no child is left behind. As trite as that sounds, it is our intent to educate and do our best each day, with or without the mega millions of Bill Gates or the promise of merit pay. I do what I do because I love and I KNOW I make a difference in each of their lives…just ask them. Sandy Kunz

  • Steve D.

    I have been teaching for 5 years now and the climate is CRAZY! Thank you so much Britton Gildersleeve for speaking the truth.

    A documentary must be made from a teacher’s perspective.

    Waiting for Superman is pure garbage, meant for sheep.

  • Dave

    As an educator at the elementary level for over 10 years, I have a favorite saying for NCLB – “Life is not multiple choice, it is essay, short answer and sometimes fill in the blank.” We need to teach our students how to solve problems in which the answer is not given to them on a multiple choice test, then we will truly leave no child behind in our race to the top.

  • Tina

    This letter brings tears to my eyes. This is how I feel but have been unable to express. I too was incredibly disappointed when I began watching Oprah’s education special. I am so mentally and physically tired of being villainized for being a teacher. So much so that I feel if I knew all that I was going to be subject to as a teacher I may have made a different choice 20 years ago. Which is unfortunate for I love these kids like my own. In some cases I am the only one who cares about them.

    Thank you Britton!!

  • Stan Flax

    As the saying goes, “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. If the raw material (student) is not prepared to learn because of conditions outside of the classroom, as Ms. Gildersleeve’s letter to Oprah succinctly points out, no matter how good the teacher, that student simply cannot learn.

    The guests Oprah had on her show never ever stepped into a classroom in their lives. As to the dragon lady (Rhee), she is obviously biased against teachers.
    School is not a substitute for the home; teachers are not substitutes for parents. In today’s world, unfortunately teachers get little respect from their students in great part because too many parents admonish their children to challenge teachers’ authority, constantly telling their kids about how cushy teachers have it–they only work until 2:30 or 3:00 pm and have their entire summers off.

    The Oprah session was geared toward building audience approval–keeping her ratings high–and was totally biased. Unfortunately, too many people who watch Oprah’s program are swayed by whatever she preaches. Her audience will run out and buy anything she endorses. In my opinion, this does not say very much for the mentality of those who comprise her audience. When I studied social psychology as a graduate student I remember a session dealing with the abuse of credentialism in persuading people to believe the speaker.

    I taught at the university level for over 50 years, the last 20 as a full-time professor at St. Thomas University in Miami, before retiring in 2004. Since that time, I taught as a substitute in public elementary schools and as a part-time instructor at a private boys’ high school. I was voted “Professor of the Year” three times as St. Thomas and the senior yearbook of 2002 was dedicated to me. My reputation was that of being tough but good–I cared about my students but “caring is not coddling”.

  • A. Gabriel

    It is obvious that you want only comments that support teachers in general since mine have been deleted. That action on your part will not silence the voices of those of us who have worked with teachers who have no business working with children, those who should never be given tenure. It is simply a fact that many teachers work hard, but it is also a fact that there are many who should have chosen other work. You print only those comments that agree with your writer and that is so very biased.Remember that my knowledge comes from over 30 years of experience as a teacher who loved her profession.

    • Cynthia McCabe

      Just a quick note that we don’t delete comments that have been posted. WordPress uses a like or dislike feature that collapses some comments if a majority of voters click that they dislike it. It’s an automatic function and not one that we’re operating subjectively.
      Thanks, staff

  • Robert Fitzgerald

    Let’s be honest here. Oprah is an opportunist. That is how she made all her money. She addresses controversial topics for the ratings she gets. So I believe her comments and guest comments are not necessarily valid, just controversial. As Britton Gildersleeve suggests, teachers need a national forum that can reveal what teachers think about the state of education. This may be the only way education can truly be improved in the long run.

  • Should physical education and health teachers be fired for our obese children and an obese society? Teachers are only part of the equation in educating our children and society. Parents and the student need to be held responsible for education, education does not end when the student walks out the school door.

  • kathy albert

    Ms. Gildersleeve is dead on. I have been in public education for 33 years. I have seen many changes ( good and bad) in education. There are so many factors involved in teaching that do not include “teaching”. We have to be accountable for every aspect of a child – education, mental health/psychology, discipline, parenting, nutrition, test scores – we do all this on minimum salary (it is a joke what we pay our teachers), minimum help from government and a love of education and children. I teach in a very small district. I can only imagine what it must be like in an inner city or larger district.
    yes, teachers should be involved in decisions regarding education! we are the professionals who have devoted our lives to children.

  • vernon

    One of the best and ost heartfelt written. Articles I have redad in. A very long time, totally on point

  • vernon

    One of the best and most heartfelt written articles I have read in a very long time, totally on point

  • Karyn

    I couldn’t agree more. When I think about my previous week of teaching it included, not only teaching the required subjects, but two staff development meetings, three team meetings, one parent meeting, two calls to different child services agencies, one entire day of hunting down and locating a missing student who had run away from home, and countless other acts of love that I gave to my students because they are worth it. However if you look at my test scores I would be considered a “bad” teacher. I suppose it is because I feel the safety and security of my students is more vital then increasing a test score.

  • Melissa

    I am a mother of four in a small city in Oklahoma. My parents, (and grandparents), brother and husband are all teachers. I have incredibly high standards for what my children will learn. I personally hold their teachers accountable, through frequent communication, for their part in what I think my kids should be learning.

    What education needs is not a new fad or another law. Education needs leadership, and the freedom to utilize what is taught in every teacher-prep program across the country — students learn differently. Of my four children, two will not test well. Regardless of the hours I and their teachers put into preparation, these two simply do not test well on a standardized test. Despite their intelligence, willingness, and effort to learn the coursework, they would cause a negative impact for their school and their teacher’s “ranking.” Is that fair? To them? To their teachers? I say leave my kids alone. Let their teachers, who are knowledgeable in their abilities, teach them as best they can using different methodologies. That’s what I expect, what I want, and guess what? I’m the taxpayer.

  • Glenn Poler

    30 plus years in education of adults and not one person has ever asked me what it’s like teaching in an adult male correctional institution. To be fair I have never advertised to the general public that I hold a position where I teach a 50 year old man that “a” has 2 sounds, not just one, where I teach a 47 year old how to manipulate the English language to hand write a letter to his 15 year old daughter (he has never written a letter in his life). I don’t advertise my duties because when stated the typical response is negative and often disrepectful to me. It makes it difficult to rise in the morning to get ready for “work”.

    But, yesterday, after 6 weeks of working on writing skills, the 47 year old man wrote a complete sentence! Now we’re getting somewhere.

  • Jeanne Garwood

    Had I seen this show I too would have been outraged.I will probably never watch Oprah again. I agree entirely with what Ms. Gildersleeve wrote, It is amazing to me that every one who went through the education system think they know what it is like to teach.
    Perhaps the public teacher’s should all just quit and open up private academies.
    aka Oprah’s school in Africa. OH! of course with our vast experience we wouldn’t be embarrassed by allegations of abuse.I do believe taping a child’s mouth shut is considered abuse. Maybe that’s why there were problems with Oprah’s school,she thinks Ms Rhee is top notch!

  • Thank you for your letter to Oprah. It is not only annoying that someone who claims to be such an eduction advocate would be so short-sighted in her support of Rhee and her destructive policies. I think that Oprah just simply doesn’t know. She does not have children of her own, nor has she ever taught a classroom full of kids. She has no intimate knowledge of schooling in that sense, and has no idea how things have turned for the worse since her own experience as a student. Letters like yours will help inform her, and I hope move her to seek more information and reflect on changing her stance on education reform. Here is a facebook page that may help.

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  • English Newbie

    I am a first year teacher and had a tough time teaching in an inner city middle school in Pueblo Co. What I learned this year will hopefully help me be a better teacher. I believe that this letter to Oprah holds merit. I also believe that the testing and the teacher observation piece has it’s usefulness in today’s classrooms. I worked with the CORE and Global companies and all of the people I worked with were all former teacher’s themselves before becoming national coaches. I think it is just a really tough time in the history of education. What we need are teacher’s who are positive and willing to create relevant and meaningful lessons which align to the standards and utilize classroom strategies. It doesn’t have to take hours upon hours to make this the first priority. When it comes to administration, that is the real deal breaker in my opinion. Strong leadership and respect for teachers and students! I believe change is approaching. I prefer to focus on that rather than pay or tenure. I want to believe that teacher’s will soon be in the shining light! Thank you for all you do!

  • Science Teacher

    Thank you for writing about all of the stresses of teaching, including the No Child Left Behind disaster of creating students who do not learn critical thinking skills, but can memorize answers to get a particular grade on a test.

    Second, since the budget cuts, each of the science teacher’s I work with have spent in excess of $1,000/each for lab materials. That is $14,000 total that is being given directly to schools out of teacher’s pockets to run education. Without such generous, caring and self-sacrificing teachers, science would not be able to run labs at all.

  • AL

    I really never became familiar with TABCO but after seeing a few teachers in Baltimore County schools, I wonder how they can set an examplk to our children when most are overweight which surely takes energy from their daily teaching routines. TABCO is much like the “old days” unions who make a good case as to teachers making enough money etc. but they set a bad example with obese people such as Oprah or Michele in front of our young chi

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  • Lisa

    After 20 years of teaching, I am suffering from burn out and frustration. I don’t teach language arts but I think I have a grasp of basic grammar. How is it possible that English teachers are posting on this site who apparently do not know the correct usage of an apostrophe s to signify possession and and a plural s. I am embarrassed for you!

    • Midsummerlight

      In my experience, only English teachers know the grammar rules and use them correctly in their writing.
      And yes, it does drive me crazy too!
      Oh no, I am wrong. Just read “English Newbie” post using “teacher’s” as the plural. And she teaches English!