Teachers: You Make a Difference

I occasionally get depressed about the state of the teaching profession. This past month, for example, it seems like my wife (who teaches in an elementary school) hasn’t been able to do anything but administer tests. First it was LAP tests (not sure what that stands for, something about English as a new language). Now they’re moving straight from that into ISTEP practice tests (that’s Indiana’s version of the high-stakes test), then they actually have to give the ISTEP itself, which will take them well into April. So from February to April basically nothing happens but testing. How can any teacher be effective in that kind of environment?

There was an education rally at the statehouse in Indianapolis earlier this week. I put it on my calendar but I felt totally unenthusiastic about attending. As I tried to figure out why, I realized that the rally was to support a Democrat who supports a ridiculous excess of high-stakes testing against a Republican who also supports a ridiculous excess of high-stakes testing. What’s the point?

Not all is lost, however. The same day of the rally, an email hit my inbox that reminded me that there are still teachers out there achieving great things despite the best efforts of our politicians to undermine them. So I asked for and received permission to share it with you here:

Dear Mr. Mullin,

My name is Lexi and I am 13 years old. Until I was 12 I hated reading and everything that had to do with it. I would never independent read or follow along in classroom reads. Last year, my class went to our school library to learn how to classify different book genres. My group was given Sci-fi. As we were classifying I saw the title Ashfall and read the back page. After reading the page I knew that I would love the book. I was very nervous because I didn’t think I could finish or even read a chapter from the book. I told myself that I will try to read it so I checked it out. Later that night I decided to put my computer down and read the book. Little did I know that I had been reading over an hour. I couldn’t believe that I read a book and actually enjoyed it! Everyday I just kept reading and reading until I finished the series. Ever since that one night I haven’t been able to stop reading. I am writing you this for a couple reasons. One reason I am writing to you is to thank you. Thank you so much for getting me into reading. I have seen improvement on many things in my English class. You are a very talented writer and I hope to be like you one day. A final reason that I am writing to you is for an autograph saying to Lexi From: (your autograph) I would love to hang it up in my room for a great memory to have forever from my favorite author.

Thanks so much for taking your time to read this email. You are a very talented writer! My address is:

[Redacted]

Thanks Again!

Lexi [Redacted]

Some wonderful teacher marched her/his class down to the library, exposed them to books, and allowed them to make a free choice of what to read. Some brave librarian put ASHFALL in a middle school library (not all can or will due to its content).

Also note from this email that Lexi had never done reading assignments, which brings up an important point. Teachers can assign “classics” or “challenging reading” all they want, but if the students don’t want to read the material, they wont. They’ll read the Wikipedia article on the book and fake it. If students are to become competent readers of long works, teachers have a far more challenging job than ordering them to read: teachers must inspire their students to want to read. In Lexi’s case, a teacher did exactly that. I don’t know who Lexi’s teacher is, so I’ll just offer kudos to all the teachers out there who are doing great work connecting kids with books. Thank you.

One thought on “Teachers: You Make a Difference

  1. Mike – I attended the rally which was to support both our State Superintendent of Public Instruction (the Democrat) AND Education. Ritz is strongly against high stakes testing but her job requires her department to be in charge of the ISTEP. One reason the test was so long this year was because Republicans decided (at the last minute) not to participate in the Common Core so Ritz’s Department of Education was tasked with both developing new standards and creating a new test that met Federal & State Government guidelines. Not an easy task! She needed permission from the government to cut out certain parts so now the test is half the length. I think if you had heard her speak you would have been impresses. After all – she is not a politician – she’s a teacher and a librarian (just like your wife!) When she entered the room everyone stood and chanted “We stand for Ritz.” When she reached the podium and quieted us all down she replied “I stand for YOU!” Sounds a bit hokey but it made every teacher & parent grin and feel pretty special.

    I’m guessing Margaret keeps you updated on the major political crap going through the legislature in regards to education. Voting in Ritz was parent & teacher’s way of say “STOP!” Ever since she has taken office, Pence has done everything possible to make her job more difficult. The latest assault was to pass a bill to remove her from her position as chair for the State Board of Education in the middle of her term. This is a bigger deal than it sounds. When folks voted for her it was with the understanding that not only would she head the DOE but also fill that position and perhaps be able to slow down the train wreak our legislators call “reform”. In passing this bill the legislators are basically saying that they don’t care what the voters want – they can just pass a bill any time to change the rules. This has made a lot of people (both Democrats & Republicans) very angry. The Rally allowed us to express that as well as to let the legislators know that we are NOT happy with the many “reforms” they are passing this session. Obviously they aren’t listening.

    I have never been a very political person but as I look at what has happened to my beloved home state in the past 5 years it makes me so depressed and angry that I feel I have to do something – even if it’s just trying to correct what I feel was a faulty assumption by my favorite author! Please continue to support teacher and librarians. We can use all the help we can get! School librarians in particular may soon be extinct. I know this from personal experience – my former school district cut back to just one media specialist for the entire school system and now there are rumors my current district is considering doing so as well. These aren’t poverty stricken, inner city school districts. These are four star schools in affluent neighborhoods. The assumption is that anybody can check out books. Administrators don’t realize that developing a great library collection with timely, quality, exciting books such as Ashfall takes time, training and experience. Even the best teachers can’t inspire kids to read if there’s nothing they want to read in their school library!

    I’ll jump down off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening and for your support!

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