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Letter to the editor: Time to save public education, bring back joy of learning

Monday, December 16, 2013 - 8:58 am

I am a public school teacher. I am a breast cancer survivor.

I dreamed as a little girl of the day I would be a teacher. I never dreamed as a woman that I would one day be a cancer survivor. So now I am both and proud that I am. I speak to you today as both, for you see there are times these days that being an educator is more challenging, more stressful, more worrisome and more exhausting than being a cancer patient/survivor.

I never in my wildest imagination dreamed I would one day be in a fight for my life. I also never ever dreamed I’d be in the fight of a lifetime to save my students’ joy of learning, my public schools and my profession. I didn’t just wake up one day and my lump was there. It had been there all along, undetected.

The same holds true for what is happening to public education. The education reform movement has been there all along, too, mostly undetected. But now it has metastasized at unparalleled speed and is no longer hidden. I have seen how my having cancer affects those around me. I have seen and, sadly, continue to see how the siphoning off of public funds from public schools, an A-F grade system to label schools and more and more testing affect my students, my colleagues, my district, my neighborhood, my community and my city.

Nevertheless, we persevere and succeed because that’s what public schools do. The lessons learned as a cancer patient/survivor are plentiful. Perhaps the most important lesson is that I learned not to let the cancer define who I am. In the same manner I will not allow all that is happening in education define who I am as a teacher, although I know there are those who like to paint me with their brush of pejoratives like union thug and status quo.

I know what kind of teacher I am, for I hold that belief in my heart, and there is no way to measure that. Teaching is much more than my career; it is my passion. Every day I enter my classroom believing I am a master teacher, for if I didn’t hold true to that claim, I shouldn’t be there. Even more importantly, I refuse to let all that is happening in education define my students, my school, my district, my community, my city.

My students have so much potential. My students’ lives are more complicated than I can ever begin to imagine. They overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and are successful because they meet their challenges. If you could see my students, you would know what I mean. They are so much more than data points. They are unique individuals with dreams and goals.

I so want them to dare “to color outside the lines” and not just simply bubble in a test circle. I welcome any politician or state board member to come to my classroom — not for a photo op but to teach. My physicians saved my life and brought back my joy of living. It is time to save the life of public education and bring back the joy of learning.

Give all students equal educational opportunities. Our future and our democracy depend on public schools. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Donna Roof