Education

Dear Alan, I have read your piece “Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist,” which appeared in the previous issue of Mandala. While I recognize that some of what I say conflicts with Buddhist orthodoxy, I do not believe that I am distorting the message of Siddhattha Gotama. I am offering an interpretation of the Dharma in the hope that the Buddha’s teaching will continue to speak to the core concerns of people in today’s world and provide an effective philosophy and practice with which to address them. I realize that what I say might seem puzzling, objectionable and even heretical to followers of traditional Buddhist schools. And I regret any offence I might inadvertently have caused you and others through my writings. Here is an email I received via my website a few...
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Dear Ms. Dusbiber: We don’t know each other, but I’ve been in your English teacher shoes. The other day, I read the Washington Post article that mentions how you no longer want to teach Shakespeare because of your “own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that [you] cannot always easily navigate, but also because there is a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of [your] very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.” I have to call foul on your assertion for many reasons. Here’s why. If you truly believe that your students can’t navigate their way through Shakespeare, then you aren’t giving them enough credit. Your students are young, enthusiastic, intelligent, and...
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Dear Everyone Presently Involved In My Kids' Education, You won't remember me as Elizabeth. Or Liz. Or Grace's, Jack's, Henry's, George's and/or Nina's Mom. You will remember me, this year anyway, as That Parent. I'm going to own it right from the get-go in order to save us both time and disappointment. You're welcome. No doubt, you are some of the most under-compensated, under-appreciated individuals on earth. And not for one moment do I want you to believe that you are under-appreciated or under-valued by me. You aren't. You hold a very dear place in my heart as a catalyst to ensuring that these kids can move out one day. And survive for more than 22 minutes. We have just embarked upon what is sure to be an indescribably long school year, and I feel it's incumbent upon me to...
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Dear Friend, Congratulations on your new astronomy teaching assignment. For the last 25 years I’ve enjoyed the challenges of teaching social studies to junior and senior high students. But when my principal asked me to teach an astronomy course last year, I was a bit apprehensive. I’ll be glad to share some of my first-year experiences with you and I hope you will do the same when you’ve finished your year. So here’s my first piece of advice: Take the astronomy assignment with a thrill in your heart. Many teachers don’t always get to decide what subjects to teach, and if you feel unprepared or unsupported, hesitation is understandable. Even though I’ve been an active amateur astronomer for several years, I took a week to talk with others and think, before accepting the offer. Take...
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Dear Governor Cuomo: I have my whole professional educational life been a supporter of teacher accountability. And, as you may know, I sided publicly with the findings in your recent report on the sham of current local teacher effectiveness ratings in New York schools and districts. However, I have long written and consulted on the need for transparency in assessment and accountability via released tests after they are given – as the Regents did for over 100 years until recently. You simply cannot expect people to trust a system in which the scores are psychometrically generated and where I cannot see, for myself, what was assessed and what the actual results were. It fails as both credible accountability and as feedback to teachers. More bluntly: Would you accept such a system...
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Dear Teacher, A few months ago, I felt extremely exhausted and fatigued. When I woke up in the morning, it was a chore to drag myself out of bed. The only thing I really wanted to do was sleep. Sleep was what I needed and yet it seemed like the most elusive thing in the world. Work occupied my mind day and night. When I did eventually drag myself out of bed, I felt like a walking zombie and nothing, not even my regular cup of coffee would perk me up. I began to feel annoyed at little things both in school and at home—things that never used to bother me. To make matters worse, I felt that my health was deteriorating, battling everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to gastro problems and the common cold. Everyday on my way to work, I would ask myself existential questions...
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Dear New Teacher, You will have a tremendous amount of pressure when you enter your classroom this fall. Along with the responsibilities outlined by your school’s administration, there are district guidelines, mandatory training classes, required documents, and additional “voluntold” duties, on top of lesson planning, curriculum development, and a never-ending amount of “necessary” policies with which to contend. But don’t let all these responsibilities make you nervous. Having just finished my first year in teaching, I want to offer some tips that I think may help you survive your days as a freshman educator. Don’t take it personally. As I was setting up before my first day with my students last year, I had it fixed in my mind how much I wanted them to “like” being in my class. In the...
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Dear Educators: When Educational Leadership asked me to write an article for this issue, I almost said no. I surprised myself. I'm a writer, a blogger, and an English teacher by trade, and I never say no to a request to write. I hadn't realized how painfully I felt that the trajectory of U.S. education had skewed in the past 10 years. In the face of the failure of funding for public schools, damaging teacher evaluation policies, stultifying infatuation with high-stakes testing, and continued national myopia regarding the influence of economic inequity on our students, to write about how to help teachers "put on a happy face" felt ludicrously peripheral. I believed, finally, there was only one way to do this with integrity, and that was to test my own experiences and ideas in fire. I...
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Dear New TFA Recruits, Around the country, hundreds of college seniors and a handful of career changers are receiving letters of acceptance into Teach For America (TFA). Congratulations on being accepted into this prestigious program. You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership to make it this far. And now I am asking you to quit. TFA probably enticed you into the program with its call to end education inequality. That is a beautiful and noble mission. I applaud you for being moved by the chance to help children, to be part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all. However, the actual practice of TFA does the exact opposite. TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality, and yet exacerbates one of the greatest inequalities in...
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Dear Public School Teachers, We are sorry. On behalf of graduates of public schools, parents of children in public schools, those who value public education and teachers unions, we apologize. Your profession has been vilified, scapegoated, mined for profit, and deprofessionalized. Earlier this year, a kindergarten teacher named Suzi Sluyter resigned after more than 25 years as an educator. She wrote: "I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them... I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job...
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