By comparison, their student population is diverse: 78 percent white, 11 percent American Indian, and 5 percent Hispanic, with small fractions of other racial groups. “My colleagues have good intentions, but they don’t always have the tools they need [around diversity],” says Billings Education Association officer Theresa Mountains. Immediately after the show, upset commenters filled more than 200 pages on Winfrey’s message boards. 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. Or classrooms. The irony is that the conversation seems to valourise teachers, saying that “good” teachers can change things for kids. But the promise of public education, reminds NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is “to prepare every blessed child to thrive—and succeed—to love living in a diverse and interdependent world.” That’s why NEA has dedicated itself to erasing institutional racism, to protecting immigrant families, to standing up for LGBTQ students, and more. “The moral arc of the universe is long, and hearts and minds are bending towards justice.
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. Does this impact their teaching? Certainly. You can’t fire a doctor without just cause, Oprah — there’s a system. And even if they did, that’s less than five hours weekly… And yes, good teachers work a lot of outside hours. At 7:57 a.m., Teeley sends a message to conference organizers: More desks, please! “Am I culturally competent?
Perhaps. I wish one of your guests was a real teacher. Or teaching. 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. 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. Do it,” urges Bata. 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. A highlight from her letter: “If you want to change education, Oprah, don’t make the mistake everyone else has. Photos: Mary Ellen Flannery In 2008, the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” triggered a controversy in Loudon County, VA, that led to it being taken off the shelves in school libraries. “And Tango Makes Three,” which highlights the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo that raised a chick together, was charged with “promoting the gay agenda.” In 2019, fourth grade teacher Susan Hayden now includes books that incorporate LGBTQ characters in her own classroom library.
There’s the female teacher who was asked by an administrator to attend an IEP meeting for a student—not her student—to be “eye candy” for the student’s father. There’s also the Eurocentric textbooks, the achievement gaps, and more. “Identify actions at each level—individual, institutional, and societal—to combat these examples of oppression,” says Bata—and they do. The October event, which hosted more than 3,000 educators, offered more than 500 trainings and workshops—including six from NEA’s Center for Social Justice in the areas of social justice, cultural competency, diversity, and support for LGBTQ students. And pay them competitive salaries — competitive with other career paths requiring a minimum of a bachelor?s degree. Given, I teach at university level, but I’ve been teaching for several years — about 20, to be exact.
Ms. Roesler is among the nearly 200 educators who spend time in Room 228 during the Montana Federation of Public Employees’ annual, two-day Educator Conference. An hour later, everybody leaves with one idea that they’re willing to implement in their own classrooms. Kevin Teeley ‘Do It!’ Cultural competency is just one workshop that NEA’s HCR-trained members provide to their colleagues. For example, the next colleague who casually says, “you don’t look Native” will be challenged, say the educators of Room 28, who also pledge to make it part of their curriculum to celebrate the diversity within Native American groups. 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. 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. Small towns — and big ones, as well — have politics, Oprah.
I also direct a non-profit federally funded professional development grant for teachers, pre-k to university, the Oklahoma State University Writing Project. Like many places in rural America, Montana lacks racial diversity in its teachers. Even nurses (another under-rated career) make more than teachers do. Not to mention the inclusion of parents and students. 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 surprise: they affect every decision in a school, even to the detriment of teachers. 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. Since 2015, the union’s student-centered, research-based tools have been shared with more than 5,000 educators. “NEA sends us out to do these trainings because the NEA mission and vision is a great public school for every student,” explains trainer Kevin Teeley, a retired teacher from the Seattle area, to the educators assembling in Room 228. “We want every single student to be achieving and successful in our diverse world.” With Dreamers marking time, the school-to-prison pipeline thriving, and the divide between rich and poor growing, these may be dark days for educators who care about social justice. It’s the local site of the National Writing Project, an amazing partnership among research universities, classroom teachers, and schools.
Unfortunately, in Oklahoma (where our average teacher salary ranks 47th in the country), many teachers need to take part-time jobs. Allan Audet is a metals manufacturing teacher whose students are working on a life-size, steel and copper, ceremonial Crow headdress, he tells his colleagues. “I just thought, ‘We should do this!’” says Audet, who worked with Billings’ American Indian instructional coach Jacie Jeffers. Your guest, Michele Rhee, notes that she fired hundreds. It is critical for those teachers to develop “cultural competence,” as NEA calls it, to reach every student, no matter who they are or where they’re from. Ninety six percent are white, according to federal statistics.
Even in the third year of teaching, we let teachers who don’t work out go. So can smaller classrooms, food, adequate resources, the freedom to teach according to a child’s needs. 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. Who are they?
At 9 a.m., kindergarten teacher Paige Bealer reads aloud a poem that she has dashed off: “My father’s side is German through and through…my mother is Jewish and Catholic Portuguese. Ask teachers. Or maybe doesn’t attend church at all. Check out NEA’s diversity toolkit, which includes strategies for educators to develop cultural competence! Just by walking into Room 228, these Montana educators are proving they value diversity. If you want real change, invite real teachers to your show, Oprah.
Not ONE of my students would think that’s okay. But then, that’s not what the “experts” are saying, is it? Unfortunately, the “experts” have no real experience with students. By lunchtime Bata and Teeley have moved onto social justice, and the educators in Room 228 are taking Post-its and jotting their real-life examples of marginalization, exploitation, cultural imperialism, and other forms of oppression. 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. These are free workshops, provided upon request, by NEA members—for NEA members.
Each year in Tulsa, Okla., new teachers don’t make the grade. But if our institutions—our policies, our programs and practices—don’t change, then the oppressive conditions that people face will stay the same,” says García. It’s about 4 p.m. in Room 228 at Skyview High School in Billings, Montana, and resource teacher Deb Roesler is explaining her “action plan.” In the coming days, when she returns to her middle school across town, this white, middle-aged, rural Montanan will invite a student who doesn’t look like her to eat lunch together. “I’ve been in the biggest groups all day. We’re inspiring children to walk in their own dreams.” ‘We Should Do This!’ It’s 7 a.m. on the first day of the conference when Teeley and co-trainer Alicia Bata, a high school teacher who works along the North Dakota-Canada border, open the door of Room 228. 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. 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. And many probably weren’t bad teachers, unfortunately.
Many had tenure. Do I know everything I need to do? Absolutely not! This is a skill that you need to practice every day,” Bata tells their classroom of 30 educators. “In three hours, we can’t make you culturally competent, but we can make a good beginning… The first step is to learn about yourself.” Alicia Bata (center) with workshop participants. I am of…cabbage rolls, borscht and sauerkraut we stomp ourselves.” At 10 a.m., Room 228 is talking about culturally competent teaching and curriculum. I’ve never been in a small group,” she says, referring to the “identity groups” that have formed and reformed in Room 228 around age, gender, race, religion, income, education, and more. “But I want to reach out, and I’d like to get to know better the students in the small groups,” she says.
Says Montana teacher Richard Montoya: “This is more than a job. Next up is cultural self-awareness. Not because the teacher is ‘bad,’ but because the teacher attends the wrong church. Fifteen minutes later, the first participant enters. This depends on educators doing at least four things: valuing diversity, or letting go of the idea that their view of the world is the only one that is normal; being self-aware of their own culture and how it affects their perceptions; understanding how students also are cultural beings; and finally, using what they know to change their classrooms, schools, and districts. The educators in Room 228 understand this. Dozens more follow.
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. Every time the door opens, educators leave with a written action plan. “Post it on your fridge, do not forget this. It also impacts the ability for a single mother of two or three children to put food on the table and pay the rent. 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. 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. Tenure doesn’t keep bad teachers in the system — there are ways, as others have noted, to fire teachers. All of these voices are absent in the current national conversation. 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. 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 It’s followed by two more hours on “Valuing Diversity,” and then an additional four hours with retired Wisconsin teacher Bonnie Augusta and retired homework market Georgia teacher Toni Smith on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students. The list is long and sad. And I’ve seen the changes that No Child Left Behind — and your beloved testing — have made in my students. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and Davis Guggenheim, the director of the forthcoming education documentary Waiting For Superman. And then it’s onward to “Understanding Diversity,” a two-hour workshop with retired Portland teacher Debra Robinson and California first-grade teacher Laura Ancira. “This is about honoring and understanding our students,” Robinson tells Room 228.
But one took her disappointment right to Winfrey, writing a heartfelt letter directly to the television star. Do you want teachers to spend more time on students? Lower classroom size — hire more teachers. 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.