Teacher to Gov. Christie: Enough already

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visits with students at Jose Marti Freshman Academy in Union City, N.J. Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, the day after defeating Democratic challenger Barbara Buono to win his second term as governor. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Gov.  Chris Christie (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

The state of New Jersey just got some good news about its students:  On the newly released 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress scores, they were at or near the top in fourth and eighth grade math and reading — and low-income students did either better or near the top when compared to poor students in other states.

Indeed, New Jersey’s students have long done exceedingly well on a variety of standardized tests, which hasn’t stopped the governor, Chris Christie, from slamming the teachers in the state over and over, including a week ago, which you can read about here.  In the following post, a Northern Virginia public school teacher named Allison M. Alison, who likes Christie’s “open” style of politics, writes an open letter to him saying that his attacks on teachers is misguided. In other words, enough already. Given that Christie seems on a path to running for president, what he thinks about public education matters to more than just New Jersey residents.

Here’s her letter:

Dear Governor Christie:

I am a teacher in Northern Virginia and have been watching you for years. I appreciate your honest and genuine approach to politics although I do think you can come across as a bully sometimes.  I am writing to you because I really hope to help you understand that to blame all teachers for the failing schools in the United States is not only unfair but keeping us from getting at the root of the problem and keeping us from addressing some real achievable changes that could occur.

Teaching is a second career for me. I am an attorney and have worked in both the criminal field with minors and the child abuse court with them.  Through my many years as a lawyer and teacher, I have been able to observe many school systems and children.  What I have learned is that it takes three components to make a successful school system.  We are so busy focusing on the one component, we forget the important other two.  It takes all three components: parents at their best, caring and supportive teachers and finally a community that creates a safe and nurturing environment.

First, may I say that all school systems are not failing. It has become all too easy to bash teachers.  In fact, I am fortunate to teach in a great school system where my own children attended. But while representing minors in Los Angeles California in some very dangerous areas, I did see many failing schools.  What I have come to understand is that we can’t keep focusing just on the teachers themselves.  There are two other important and essential components to a great school system where we must put our attention in order for change to occur.

It takes the support from parents and the communities within the school districts to make the school successful along with great teachers and staff members.  We must help parents of every child be the best for their child.  They are the most important teachers in a child’s life.  We must demand from the communities where schools are located that they create a safe and supportive environment for the schools. Think about it Governor Christi, you send you children to parochial school because those school have these essential three components.

The first and and most important piece of the puzzle of successful children is parents at their best.  Without a doubt parents are the most influential and important people in a child’s life.  Sometimes they are the only role models in a child’s life the first five years and those first five years are critical years in a child’s development.  But there is no handbook or schooling on how to be the best parents.  Many new parents repeat the same parenting that their parents bestowed on them.  This is fine if they came from an emotionally supportive family but what about all those dysfunctional families?  They are continuing the cycle of dysfunction over and over again. These aren’t bad people, they just don’t know any better.  Quite frankly even those people from functional families could use new and innovative skills to be the best parents they can be for their child.  The discovery about what makes good parenting skills led me years ago to interview parents of successful children to see what they had done as parents. What I found was a common thread of ideas and advice that I felt compelled to put in a book.  I wish I had known these things when I was starting out as a new parent.  Many of the things I learned from these parents I knew because I was raised in a very loving and supportive home, but I still would have loved to have been educated in this early on to be just a little bit better parent for my children.  I would love to see a “Revolution” of such that focuses more on better parents then just school systems.

The communities where the schools and children are located need to take an active role in making sure the schools are located within safe environments and that there are additional resources for parents who need it.  The communities in a school district should be responsible for making sure all children are able to get to school safely and feel free from danger in their school.  The residents within the school district must be willing to pay for whatever resources are necessary to make that happen.  Whether it is police officers in the schools or neighborhood watch groups on the streets, the community must come together and create a safe atmosphere.  Also the community needs to provide resources in the way of mental health facilities, drug rehabilitation or other resources to give additional assistance to parents who are struggling with challenging children.  This is not just the parent’s problem, it is a problem for all of us and we must demand that our communities through taxes or services help out.  We all benefit when children grow up to their full potential and are productive law abiding citizens.  When we turn our backs on these issues and say it is not our problem, we pay in the end in expensive and overcrowded jails and prisons.  According to a CBS article “The Cost of A Nation of Incarceration”, the average cost of an inmate per year “among 40 states surveyed by Vera Institute of Justice is   $31, 307”. Why not invest in children when they are young and help them to meet their full potential.

I truly hope you will consider what I have written and keep an open mind when it comes to trying to solve the problems of failing schools.  We can make failing schools better but we can’t keep doing the same things. We can’t keep relying on teachers and schools to solve all the problems. What works in the suburbs or parochial schools does not necessarily work in the inner city. We need to address the other two elements in order to make real change.  We can do it if we change the focus.

Thank you for you time,

Allison M. Alison

 

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | November 9, 2013