Some Good News About Teachers (For a Change)

The past few weeks have been tough on the teaching profession. From Oprah to NBC’s Education Nation to the rollout of Waiting for Superman, talk of American education’s problems pervade popular discourse.  Placed at the root of many of these problems are “bad teachers” (and the unions that protect them).  I am working on a longer response to all of this which will be posted soon. But in the mean time, I felt compelled to share something that happened yesterday.

When I got home from all my regular running around, I picked up the mail, as usual. Unlike my childhood days, when I held out hope for the occasional hand written letter, these days I’ve pretty much given up on much “personal mail” coming in the mailbox. (It seemed a sad milestone this week when, for my birthday, I did not get a single mailed card – a first!)  I was flipping through the bills, periodicals, ads, and Netflix, when something caught my eye.  It was a postcard, hand written! I was sure it couldn’t be for me, but it was – and it wasn’t an ad, someone telling about an event I needed to attend, a political diatribe, or anything else of the sort.  It was something I really wanted to read – a postcard from my 6th grade daughter’s teachers, just telling me that she is doing well, with a few personal details. Could I have been more proud or pleased?  And all it took was a few personal sentences and a stamp.

I take (or am reminded of) several lessons from this small experience:

Kids are more than test scores, and no matter how hard policy tries to convince them otherwise, smart teachers know this. In a data-driven era, when we seem to be always worried about what a student doesn’t know, this postcard was a recognition of the good things my daughter is doing. Teachers can write these about every child in our classrooms! As a parent, it means a great deal to me that the people my daughter spends so much time with know her and see the good in her.

It feels great to hear good news from school. I have had years when most of the communications I have gotten from my children’s teachers were about problems with my child.  This does not bother me, because I want to help and be a partner to the teacher in any way I can. Plus, teachers are very very busy and they can’t contact me every time something positive happens. Still, sometimes the “no news is good news” approach could use a boost from some positive, unexpected comments. Since my daughter’s school only conducts conferences “as needed” this postcard was also a good way to get a quick update and feel connected to her teachers.

Paper and handwriting can get people’s attention. I’m a techie, it’s clear.  Maybe that is why it means so much to me to get a handwritten postcard.  Emails have become “something to manage” in my life.  I might have glazed over this note a bit more if it had come through my inbox instead of my mailbox.

Good news take time to convey, but the investment pays off. As I think about recommending something like writing out-of-the-blue postcards to my own students (future teachers) I will tell them that emails are ok (for parents who have email accounts) but taking a few minutes a day over a few weeks to write personal postcards is a worthwhile investment.  I also think that, when times get hard or pressures get overwhelming, sitting down to write something positive about each of our students can remind us of all the worthwhile things they bring to our classrooms.

Good news is worth sharing. This is perhaps the biggest lesson I take from the postcard. When students are doing good things, it is worth sharing with all kinds of audiences. We can share good work with parents through postcards or phone calls. We can share good work with the community through public displays. We can share good work with administrators through whatever form of communication would reach them best. We can share good work with other teachers through our learning networks, or through professional conferences. Take these opportunities to share and shout about the great things happening in schools.

We have heard so much BAD “news” about schools and teachers lately.  And yes, there are definitely problems regarding education that everyone in our country needs to help with (not just teachers). But lately, any positives happening in schools (especially local public schools, which my children attend) have been getting lost in an increasingly adversarial public dialogue. I fear that the conversation is being hijacked and educators are going to be further and further excluded.

Many have called for the sharing of GOOD news as an antidote to this poison press.  I am going to take a lesson from my daughter’s teachers and sit down to write a postcard to Arne Duncan this week (and a few others) to tell him about the good teachers my children have and the learning my kids are doing. I know that all teachers are not great (myself definitely included), and some will say this post is too sunny, but I wonder…if we can try to change the dialogue and resist the wave of negative and dehumanizing energy in education, might we see fewer great teachers broken?

I hope you will take a few minutes and join me in sharing something good that you see happening in schools. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Arne’s mailbox filled with postcards?


2 Responses to “Some Good News About Teachers (For a Change)”

  1. 1 Kristin 10.04.2010 at 3:56 am

    Great post, Beth. I did this when I was a classroom teacher — sometimes the kids wrote notes to their parents that we both signed — and it definitely made a difference. And that was years ago!

    • 2 bethfriese 10.04.2010 at 1:01 pm

      thanks for taking time to comment, Kristin. I hadn’t thought of having the kids write, too, and co-signing them. My own students have been asking lately about writing as communication between home and school (how to do it effectively, etc.) I hope you won’t mind if I share your idea with them. Appreciate you adding to my thinking!

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