Sometimes as a classroom teacher, I address the entire class even though the message is not intended for every student. I advise them that if the shoe doesn't fit, they don't have to wear it. But they should try the shoe on.
That said, this teacher invites each legislator to pause to remember their favorite teacher. Remember the morning light slanting across rows of wood-top desks, the smell of chalk and paste, the raucous cacophony of recess and the whispering sound of silent reading. Imagine that your favorite teacher is writing this letter to you.
Dear Alaska Legislator:
This is your favorite teacher writing to you. I'm sure you remember me. I'm the one who presented the mysteries of life for your consideration, challenged you to try harder, praised you for your effort and successes, coached you in your activities and held you accountable for your responsibilities. I remember that sometimes you would see me in the community outside of school and you couldn't believe that such an important and powerful person would have to shop for groceries or visit the doctor's office.
The future holds such promise. Teachers always wonder who each student will be as they mature into adulthood. Now you are all grown-up and I am very proud of you. You are so important and powerful with many vital responsibilities. And you have devoted a large portion of your life to serve your community and state. How could your favorite teacher be anything but proud of you?
As proud of you as I may be, I am still in the habit of holding you accountable and you do have some important responsibilities that you have neglected. For example, have you recently visited the schools that are in disrepair in your community? And why do our new teachers qualify for housing assistance and foodstamps? I thought we wanted the best and the brightest to teach Alaska's children. What kind of economic growth can our elected leaders expect in a state with crowded, aging schools and teachers who can't afford to live where they work? And why don't our schools have money to replace the textbooks you used as a student? How can you expect today's children to enjoy the opportunities you received in my class while school budgets and buildings erode from stagnant funding and inflation? And why doesn't Alaska have a secure funding source for its most important investment? What kind of future can Alaska's children expect coming from a rapidly declining educational system?
Now these are your responsibilities. Why aren't you working harder on them? What is more important? Don't you think we should have higher standards for educating our children? Speaking of standards, do you remember when I taught you that anybody could grow-up to become the president or a legislator? But it seems that in 2004, students will have to pass a high stakes test just to get a diploma.
You want more accountability. That sounds like a great idea. You might remember learning that lesson from your favorite teacher. But what kind of accountability can Alaska's voters expect from legislators who expect students to pass this test with fewer resources than your schools had decades ago? Accountability is a powerful idea. I think its high time we have some in Alaska. Let's start with our legislature. Now, get back to work and take care of your responsibilities or you'll be spending time with me after school.
Your Favorite Teacher
Clay Good has taught science at Juneau-Douglas High School for 16 of his 34 years in Juneau. He is also president elect of the Juneau Education Association.