I decided to start the new year and a new blog with my contribution to the Teachers’ Letters to President Obama Project.

Dear President Obama,

I have been a teacher for twelve years.  My primary responsibilities have been teaching science and technology to students in grades three through eight, but since I was at a small, private school I also occasionally taught a math class and for a few years taught a humanities course.  This year I am an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow working at the National Science Foundation.

During your campaign, which I was inspired by and volunteered for, your primary message was one of hope.  In fact I consider one of the most poignant statements made during your campaign to be, “We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”  From talking to teachers and reading some of the other letters written as part of this project, I believe that the greatest problem facing teachers in America today is a loss of hope.  However, not all teachers have lost their hope and I believe that those who are feeling beaten down and hopeless can have their hope restored.  Teachers are people who are in the business of the future and that should be a business filled with hope.  Therefore, I believe what you need to do is restore hope for this nation’s teachers.  I have some suggestions, which I will outline below, but above all please keep hope in mind as you and your staff consider education reform.

One of the things which has been most powerful about my Fellowship experience so far is the time it has given me to reflect on what I am learning and experiencing.  This is something that is critically lacking for teachers.  If a teacher is lucky enough to be able to attend professional development seminars and conferences, they almost certainly have no time to digest what they learned once they return to their classroom.  The notes and materials will most likely languish in a bag or filing cabinet for days or weeks until the teacher has a bit of spare time to think about incorporating the new ideas.  Schools should give teachers time immediately after they return to process and discuss what they learned during their professional development experience.

Today’s technologies provide a wealth of opportunities to reshape education however issues related to access and use are hampering their inclusion in many schools.  The digital divide needs to be closed as soon as possible and schools should be equipped with up to date, functional technology.  However, simply putting technology into the schools is not enough.  Teachers must be trained in the use of the new technologies and their applications to education.  A school full of shiny, new computers and gadgets looks great on the news, but is completely useless unless teachers know how to use it to enhance their curricula.  This can be achieved by supporting instructional technology specialists within schools.  These would be tech-savvy teachers whose job it is to help teachers infuse technology into their classrooms.  Technology shouldn’t be something that is an extra, it should be just another learning tool.

Additionally, many schools block access to some of the most powerful Web 2.0 tools available.  This must end.  We need schools where students are taught to safely and effectively leverage the Internet for their own learning.  Yes, there are dangers on the Internet, but we are not doing students any favors by pretending these sites don’t exist.  Rather, we are robbing them of powerful learning tools.  Along these same lines, we have to stop banning cell phones, iPods, etc. in school buildings.  Many students have these electronics and instead of prohibiting them we should be leveraging them as learning tools.  Will there be cases of students using them for nonacademic activities?  Of course there will be. Students use pencils and paper to pass notes and doodle, should we ban them as well?

Finally, the perception of teachers in our society needs to be changed.  Everyone who has been to school, so essentially everyone, thinks they know how to evaluate and “fix” the educational system.  To be blunt, many of them have no idea what they are talking about.  There are people in our society who have little respect for teachers and this needs to be attacked directly.  Comments about someone being “too smart to be a teacher” , which I heard from a scientist at a conference bemoaning the fact that many quality, minority students had turned to teaching, must not be tolerated at any level.  Furthermore, to raise the level of public respect we must get rid of bad teachers.  There are bad teachers in many schools, which is demoralizing to the good teachers and reflects poorly on our profession.

There are most assuredly thousands of ideas out there about what we need to do to reform education in this country.  These three are merely the ones that I am passionate about.  Most of all, I sincerely believe that education needs reform and teachers need to have their hope restored.

Sincerely,

Marti Canipe

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