I worked every possible angle to attend the T&L conference, but it’s not in the cards this year. I was very disappointed that I could not attend,
and then I saw the email about Bill Gates as a speaker. I’ve been a long time supporter of NBPTS, having certified in AYA/Science in 1998 when the certificate was first available and renewing in the 2006-2007 cycle. I’ve supported initial cert candidates and renewal candidates, having written the renewal workshop materials for Washington State (WEA). I am working hard to promote certification to potential candidates in Oregon. I was watching the revisions as carefully as an outsider to the process can watch, and was very much hoping that the process would maintain the rigor and standards I’ve known since 1997 when I began the process. Associating Bill Gates with our profession, no matter how much money he might give, has alienated a good many potential candidates and has many of my NBCT colleagues across the nation questioning whether they will bother to renew. We do not want anyone who is not an educator in the position to offer financial incentives for following their decisions about what they believe is best for our profession and our students. I don’t remember a time I’ve been so disappointed in the direction my profession is taking, and it’s not my nature to watch in silence as it’s destroyed.
With that in mind, below is my letter to Bill Gates as he prepares to address my colleagues at the National Board Teaching and Learning Conference on March 14, 2014.
A Teacher’s Letter to Bill Gates
Mr. Gates, I see that you’ve been awarded the honor of addressing a group of America’s most accomplished teachers. I am disappointed that I am unable to attend the conference and thus won’t be able to attend your speech. As a parent of 2 successful, professional young men, I know about raising kids. As an old, well-educated teacher with many years of classroom success, as one who learns daily from every available source and from my students, I know that I have something to learn from everyone. Based on what I’d like to learn from you, I have some suggestions for possible topics I’d like to learn about from your speech:
- You’re an expert businessman. (I respect that. I’ve supported your business by purchasing your products.) Share your business model. Include what worked and why, and especially, what didn’t work, and why.
- Share your plans for business and industry in the US. What are you doing to support employment for our students and their families?
- Describe skills you’d like your employees to have, now, and in the future.
- What are you willing to learn from us? After all, you did so as a child, and much of that learning apparently worked.
- How will you act on that learning? Here are some ideas:
- Offer up ways that you can support our work, and let us choose what we need. This is how we help our students.
- Be our partner, not our critic.
- Be our partner, not our adversary.
- Be open to working with us on how we might best help students gain these skills.
- Support us as we build foundations in students so they can accomplish real work later; accept that we know how to do the foundation part.
- Listen. Listen, listen, listen.
And some pointers to remember as you prepare your speech:
- Realize that our classrooms look very different from the classrooms you, your wife, or your children attend. We’re not only individuals, we’re NBCTs. Our certification process requires that we make decisions as to what’s best for each student, in our particular setting and moment. We do this, daily. It’s a skill you likely value in your own employees; we need to model this for kids.
- Remember that you don’t, and will likely never, know our students. More importantly, assume they had no breakfast, or a bed in their own home in which to sleep last night. Assume they may not know where they will sleep tonight, or if and where they will get a good dinner.
- You’ve created anger in many of my colleagues. Remember that we’re all in this together. Show this by your actions rather than unkept promises. (You pulled small school funding from my school, contrary to recently collected evidence that it DOES improve attendance and graduation rates.)
- Ask us how you can help. Don’t tell us what you’d like to change.
I hope that a video or transcript of your speech will be made public. I look forward to hearing what you have to say. I look forward to working with you as a partner, not as an adversary. The choice is yours. Are you willing?
UPDATE February 27, 2014:
I’ve been funded to attend the conference. Thank you, Oregon Education Association!