Dear [Congressperson(s) from My State]:

Congratulations on re-/taking your seat in our nation's legislative body. You have a lot of new people to work with this year, and I have every confidence that you will not act like a douchebag do your best to meet your constituents' needs.

[Congressperson], let me be honest: I didn't vote for you. I don't really care for your politics or your campaign methods, and frankly, I think you're kind of a jerk. But I'm willing to look past that, if you will put aside party lines, show up to vote most every time, and not send dirty emails to underaged pages anyone. I know you were elected because of your platform, and that you aren't particularly well-liked by the opposition, but [Congressperson], I ask you to go into this session of Congress with an open mind and a positive attitude. Also, some coffee might help.

You may be asking yourself, [Congressperson], why I've bothered to write to you, when I am in such a bad mood. That, sir/madam, is an excellent question. I don't often address congressional delegates personally, because I tend not to care unless what you're doing affects my bank account to be somewhat reticent on the subject of politics.

You're going to vote on something very important this year, [Congressperson], and how you vote is of great interest to me. I'm a teacher, you see, and No Child Left Behind is up for re-authorization.

I am out of big words now, so let me just tell you, plain and simple, why NCLB is a stinking pile of crap not a good idea.

1. Because of NCLB, teachers are no longer able to educate the whole child; we are, instead, expected to teach only those things which are tested. The things that are tested, if you want the truth, are not the things a kid needs to know. Our kids are learning HOW TO TAKE TESTS, not HOW TO BE LIFELONG LEARNERS, and I have to tell you, there are not that many professions that are based around the multiple choice test.

2. Because of NCLB, students' electives are taken away. In my school alone, students who are "at risk" of failing the state exams are forced strongly encouraged to take "lab classes."

Now, I have taught an English lab, and do you know what those kids did every single time we met? Took practice tests. That's it.

And now there are people at my school who want to make ACT Prep a course requirement for all students, which takes yet another class choice away. It is entirely possible for a child to have a schedule consisting of English Lab, Math Lab, and ACT Prep, which is three whole class periods devoted to taking a test. Is that kid getting a quality education?

3. I hold myself 100% accountable for the work I do. But NCLB holds me 100% responsible for the work MY STUDENTS do. In other words, if a kid decides that his MySpace or sports team or television is more important than his grade in my class, it is going to be MY fault when the child fails the class.

I don't think that's fair.

If I commit a crime, will you, as my congressperson, be held responsible for my actions? If a doctor tells a patient ten thousand times that smoking is bad for him, can the doctor be held accountable when that person gets lung cancer?

Hint: kids have a free will, just like adults do. If they want to do something, they'll do it and if they don't want to do something, they won't. I'M DOING MY JOB, BUT THEY HAVE TO DO THEIRS TOO.

4. Every year, tons of new reports come out about how I'm supposed to teach to each student's individual strengths, and how I should use the multiple intelligences, and how I should implement authentic assessment, and how I should write my tests according to Bloom's Taxonomy, and how I should identify each student's particular learning style so as to teach more customized lessons, or something. And every year, those kids are tested according to ONE INTELLIGENCE, and ONE LEARNING STYLE, and ONE TYPE OF TEST QUESTION, and TOTALLY INAUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT. So what I say is this: practice what you preach, or come out from behind your freaking pulpit.

5. NCLB insists that every child in America has to test at a proficient level by 2014 (although the definition of proficiency varies from state to state). EVERY CHILD. This includes the following: mentally challenged students, students who never come to school except for test day, students who smoked a joint before the bell rang, students who just don't care, students who want to sleep so they mark C for every answer and snore through the rest of the period, students whose home lives are so wrecked that they can't concentrate on a freaking test right now, students who JUST moved here from another country, and students who are totally planning to drop out of school on their seventeenth birthday so this test doesn't matter anyway.

6. NCLB sucks the joy right out of teaching. You know what I love?

Finding innovative ways to show kids the difference between an adjective and an adverb.
Showing kids why writing skills are so important in every profession.
Reading a book to my class and discussing its themes and how it relates to the human condition, or even just reading a book because it's GOOD.
Encouraging my students and telling them that the doors are wide open for them.
Giving my kids the tools they need in order to succeed once they leave my classroom and head out into this world that just SUCKS sometimes; giving them the courage to try something new; giving them this incredible THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE that is NEVER QUENCHED and they feel like they have to LEARN MORE and KNOW MORE and DO MORE and BE MORE.

But, instead, I am teaching them how to fill in a bubble with a No. 2 pencil.

[Congressperson], I hope, when the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind is introduced during this session, that you will remember what I've written. I hope that you will seek out opinions from the people who are most affected, and that you won't be deceived by charts and graphs and lectures from people who have been politicians longer than they've been educators. I hope that you will think back to a teacher that made a difference in your life, and ask yourself if he or she would have been able to do so if NCLB had dictated educational goals during your childhood.

I'm not interested in politics, [Congressperson]. I don't care about partisan attacks or filibusters or the minority whip. I CARE ABOUT STUDENTS. And it's because I care that I have taken the time to write this letter when, in any other year, I might not even have remembered your name.

Mei Flower

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Wow. That is an excellent letter. May I borrow it? I'll change it around just a bit, because I'm a mom of a student that would rather drop out of school than take another test that he will fail because he does better when he sees the movie than when he reads the book.

(He got an 88 on his English Midterm - he has never gotten higher than a 65 before. This teacher saw that her students needed new ways to learn and she did that for them - reading, discussion and viewing three different versions of the play. Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare and my son got an 88!!!!!)

Anyway, I'd like to borrow your letter and tailor it to a mom's point of view, which is very similar to yours, and send it off to my congressperson, if you don't mind!


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