Tuesday, January 17, 2017

RE: The Senate Confirmation Hearing for Betsy DeVos (a letter to our senators)

Tonight I watched the senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education. It left me feeling enraged and empowered. I took notes during the 3+ hours of every person who spoke and what they said. I plan to write letters to all the senators on the committee with my thoughts. Here is my first draft of a letter to all the committee members present at the hearing. Please feel free to use this as a start to your own letters of opposition or share with others who may want to speak out.

I'm ready to mobilize now.

RE: The Senate Confirmation Hearing for Betsy DeVos

Dear members of the Senate Education & Health Committee,

I watched all of the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos this evening and took detailed notes on each of your questions and your responses to Ms. DeVos' answers. I was left feeling that I must write a letter to all of you. I'm a high school special education teacher working in a public school in New York City. Many of the issues discussed tonight are deeply important to me, my colleagues, my family, and my students.

Senator Lamar Alexander, you ruled this hearing with an iron fist, creating precedents that don't exist to silence those who might oppose Ms. DeVos. You refused to allow for further questions because of what appeared to be your own fear that she might be publicly scrutinized and we'd all realize what a terrible choice this woman is for Secretary of Education. You made me question your commitment to the issues and the fairness of these hearings. It is clear you have strong opinions about who the next Secretary of Education should be and tried to shut down any chance of the American public seeing her flaws.

Senator Patty Murray, early on you stated your commitment to scrutinizing every nominee and noting how important the Secretary of education position is and how important our children are. You raised questions about Ms. DeVos' missing government ethics paperwork, her tax returns and potential conflicts of interest. You raised questions about her alliance to Trump and the comments he's made about groping women and asked important questions about her commitment to protecting young women from sexual assault in schools. You helped to keep Senator Alexander accountable for his refusal to allow the members to ask follow up questions. Most importantly, you questioned Ms. DeVos' commitment to public education, an issue very close to my heart. Thank you.

Tim Scott, Mike Enzi,  Pat Roberts, Johnny Isakson, Orrin Hatch, Bill Cassidy, Todd YoungRand Paul, and Richard Burr you all commended Ms. DeVos on her accomplishments and ignored the obvious flaws to her resume and her character. You avoided asking difficult questions. You turned a blind eye to this woman's inexperience and clear bias towards the privatization of public schools and the expansion of charters. You ignore the evidence that charter schools do not solve the problems within our education system. You ignore the fact that sending a kid to a charter does not guarantee their success. These policies do not "save" children. She is not a white savior. As a public school special education teacher in New York City I am horrified and offended that you would consider Ms. DeVos as a serious candidate for this position. What this really tells me is you do not have a clue about education or our children. If you really cared about improving education, you would oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos for education secretary. I hope you will take my comments to heart and consider the moral and ethical implications of appointing Ms. DeVos.

Thank you Sheldon Whitehouse, Tammy Baldwin, Bernie Sanders, Bob Casey, Al Franken, Michael Bennett, Christopher Murphy, Elizabeth Warren, Maggie HassanTim Kaine, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski for your commitment to ask tough questions and hold Betsy DeVos accountable for her answers. I appreciate the energy, time and commitment you made for our schools, our students and teachers like me. Thank you to those of you who continually asked for a second round of follow up questions, for pointing out the questions that went unanswered and for clearly stating the concerns many of us share about the possibility of Betsy DeVos becoming our Secretary of Education. You confirmed for me what I already knew, that Betsy DeVos does not have the knowledge or experience necessary to be an effective Secretary of Education.

Among the myriad of issues I had with Betsy DeVos' comments during the hearing,  there were two things that stuck out to me most this evening.

1. Ms. DeVos said she would defer to state and local governments about whether guns have a place in schools. This was horrifying to hear. Many of our jaws dropped and we may have even laughed thinking this was another SNL skit when she cited grizzly bears as one reason schools may need guns inside. The issue of school shootings, violence, and authoritarians abusing their power cannot be stated enough. Guns have no place in schools and I am shocked that this would even be a serious suggestion.

2. Ms. DeVos admitted to being confused about the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and not realizing that it is a Federal law created to allow ALL students, particularly those with disabilities, equal access to resources. This is truly problematic. This is one of the most basic and important laws in education history and she didn't know it. How can we appoint someone who has such limited knowledge of students with disabilities and their rights to education?

I hope you will consider my comments when you vote on Tuesday.

Thank you again for your time and commitment to these very important issues.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Pursuit of Happiness

Yesterday we were given two options. They could not have given us worst options. It was the illusion of choice and freedom.

When I started at this school I was told I could teach anything I wanted and I did. And I was happy. For the last three years, I have been told what to teach and when I advocated for myself, I was given some flexibility some of the time, but it was seen as a flaw in my character. And with these most recent options I'm moving towards another decision. It's time to start looking for a new school. I can teach SETSS and test prep anywhere.

The thing I loved most about this school has faded away. I miss creating classes that I loved teaching and that kids loved taking. I miss waking up in the morning excited to go to work. I miss the empathy students used to have, when expectations were clear, and students were accountable for their behavior. I miss having time to go out to lunch with my colleagues and talking about something other than how miserable we are at work.

It breaks my heart to feel like I can't be happy in a place that used to make me so happy, that felt like a second home. I don't want to leave, but I don't want to feel this unhappy anymore. I'm not sure what else I can do to be happy teaching again. So I have to try and start looking elsewhere.