AP NEWS

Katherine Betlej Learn about education before making policy

March 6, 2019

An open letter to anyone considering running for a political office affecting education.

We the teachers of America want to ensure that the politicians governing crucial decisions have the experience necessary to effectively make positive policy changes in the educational communities they serve.

We implore you to visit your local schools and classrooms.

Sit in on classes and observe lessons. Listen to how much effort the teacher puts into engaging their students and making the material applicable to real life. Stay with them until the end of the day, when it’s hours past their contractually obligated time, and you will still find them hard at work grading papers, lesson planning, preparing for the next day, continually looking for ways to improve their pedagogy and writing parent emails; all while trying to make it home to see their own families for dinner. Talk to teachers and students. Understand their caseloads, hopes, dreams, aspirations. Don’t look on them with pity but instead with understanding.

I challenge you to visit schools labeled as “alternative settings.”

Visit with students on the spectrum who struggle to communicate and often lack control of their body when they are frustrated. But do not judge them. You do not know their abilities.

Visit with students labeled “emotionally disturbed” and observe the therapeutic hands-on techniques used to help them regain composure when their emotions become too strong for their bodies to handle. But do not judge them. You do not know their trauma.

Visit with students who have learning disabilities. Listen to their patient paraprofessionals and teachers repeating materials over and over using multiple means of representation to best help each individual student. But do not judge them. You do not know their learning style.

Visit with students who are hearing or vision impaired. Watch as their staff helps them navigate a world we take for granted that is new to them each day. Do not judge them. You do not know their strength.

If you are unable to see a silver lining in each classroom then maybe educational policy-making is not for you. Do not look on any students with pity but instead look on them with pride. Every job opportunity offered to them, college acceptance, good grade, new skill learned, coping skill mastered, sign or Braille phrase used, or simply a good day, there is a paraprofessional or teacher cheering internally (even sometimes externally!) and beaming with pride for their student.

However, if you’re also looking at this system of streamlining success, high-stress testing and high-pressure caseloads for student and staff and thinking everything is OK, educational policy-making also might not be for you. Maybe you should spend more time in classrooms and learn to do your part in making the world a better place as every student in America is doing now.

Katherine Betlej, of Derby, is a special education teacher.