To The Daily Sun,
As a teacher part of my job is to deal with a certain amount of criticism. At any given time, students, parents, administration, or community members may question or disagree with the way I do things such as assigning homework or running my class. In general, I welcome the feedback because it helps me reflect on my teaching and grow as an educator. However, I do take issue with some of the inflammatory remarks that have been said about me and my colleagues recently in the newspaper as well as in social media regarding the Alton Central School Washington, D.C., trip, and for that reason I'd like a chance to set the record straight.
As it is apparent that the major issue people have expressed is that someone surveyed the students, I felt it necessary to step forward and say that it was my idea to do so, and I'd like to clarify why, because although it has been called a "bonehead move" and something that should not have been done at all, I would like to respectfully disagree.
A student came to the teachers to discuss a trip that she had been raising money for over the last two years. As a result of the presentation, two things became clear. The first is that there was still a lot of fund-raising to be done with an approaching deadline to book the trip looming relatively soon. She said that over the last two years they were actively raising funds. So far they had approximately $4,500, and according to her figures, a conservative estimate of what the students would still need to raise is at least an additional $20,000. Also, a parent survey that they had distributed and compiled earlier this year had a very low return (approximately 20 out of 51 students). Those two factors led me to suggest we survey the students about their interest and commitment level to this trip.
When the results came back, it was clear that there was not an overwhelming majority of students willing to do the work it would take to get the trip where it needed to be in time. I went forward with the information and asked what to do with it. At no time did the teachers "kill it". The only part we played was to collect the data in an unbiased, anonymous format (the students took it on the spot on remote clicker technology and were not able to discuss any of it before, during or after the survey) and to try to interpret and pass on the information provided.
I care a lot about my students. I spend many hours deciding how to reach them most effectively. I think about them about as much on weekends as I do weekdays. I worry about them, I try to help them achieve successes, and I fight for them to have a voice in as much as they can in their education. Realistically the vast majority of a student's day is out of his or her control. Teachers, parents and other adults still have a significant amount of influence over what an adolescent does during the day, which makes sense. They aren't developmentally ready to make all choices for themselves. However, I do believe in allowing them choices when possible. Best practices in education state that voice and choice are particularly important to student success in middle school. This is also an essential component of my own educational philosophy. In fact, my colleague and I have worked tirelessly this year to bring a stronger voice in decision-making to our students through transforming our pre-existing student council into a student leadership group. We believe that what students think and how they feel about things does matter.
I feel strongly that students should have a voice in planning their 8th grade trip. Ironically this one would be to the most democratic place in the nation. We have historically asked for student input for the 8th grade trip, so it is also based on past practice. In fact, these same students were apparently polled in fifth grade and had a lot of enthusiasm for the idea at the start. However, since this was both quite a while ago in the life of an adolescent and before much of the work of fund-raising had begun, an updated student survey just made sense.
I want to be clear that at no time did I think this trip was a bad idea. In fact, I was on-board and willing to chaperone, leaving my own family for the time it required, especially since this group of students is one of the best groups I have ever had the pleasure to teach. If this was something the majority of them wanted, I would be more than happy to do so. As it turned out though, only 19 percent reported they wanted to pursue this trip.
Part of me was reluctant to write this letter, as I know in doing so I may invite additional attacks and disparaging remarks; however, I decided to write it for a number of reasons. One is for the students who don't want to go on the trip. They should know that their opinion is important and matters to many of us. Another is for the students who are continuing to fight to go on the trip. They see this issue as a problem, and they are working to solve it. I applaud them for their perseverance and follow-through. I will continue to advocate for all of my students to have a voice. Though, I also want those particular students to see that the way to discuss and solve problems should never include name-calling, questioning ethics, besmirching reputations or misrepresenting facts.
Lastly, I write this letter for me, because if I am trying to teach my students to stand up for themselves and for what they believe is right, I also need to be able to do so myself.
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