#sol15: March 19, 2015 – I really wish she hadn’t said that….

As I wrote  on Monday, I was thrilled beyond measure to learn that Nancie Atwell had won the first ever Global Teacher Prize.  How fitting, it seemed to me.  Nancie has stood for all the “stuff” those of us who teach treasure: authentic reading and writing experiences for our kids, exposure to rich literature and the tools with which to appreciate and analyze its craft, the intentional and painstaking creation of a classroom that radiates  a seriousness of purpose leavened with the joy of a learning community. That’s the model I gleaned from my first read of In the Middle, and that’s the model I have always sought to re-create in my own sixth grade classroom.

I have loved reading all the interviews and articles about Nancie since Sunday’s announcement, and I have listened to her lovely acceptance speech many times over, because she says so many important things about teaching that we rarely hear in the news anymore – that we transform lives, that we thrive on and nurture creativity, that our classrooms are places where wisdom and happiness are nurtured in equal measure.

But then, there was Nancie on CNN, advising young teachers to stay away from public school. If you are a creative, smart, young person, Nancie advised, teach in a private school, for public school teachers have been turned into technicians, held accountable to tests and the Common Core, .

I wish she hadn’t said that…

I am a public school teacher.  Yes, I am accountable to the Common Core, and yes, I had to prepare my children for the PARCC.  But I am no technician.  And I hope that smart and creative young teachers really do think about teaching in public schools – we need them.  I am thinking of my mentee Rachel, a smart and creative young woman who began in public schools (mine!) and continues in a public school Denver, serving a diverse community of students and a long list of daunting, unfunded mandates. I am thinking of Jessica, my student teacher last Fall, another smart and creative young teacher in the making.  Neither of them think of themselves as technicians, and although they know the parameters within which they must work – parameters which often make teaching a frustrating and thankless job – they see themselves as teachers.

Now, more than ever, we need to draw the smart and creative and strong young people into the teaching profession – especially in our public schools, which are under relentless assault.  We need dreamers like Rachel and Jessica, who choose to be in public schools even though they are tough places in which to try and make teaching dreams come true.  We need young people to stand with us, in public school classrooms everywhere, to say that these children, too, are deserving of curriculums rich in authentic reading and writing experiences, just like the students in Nancie’s school.



34 thoughts on “#sol15: March 19, 2015 – I really wish she hadn’t said that….

  1. Nancy has been one of my heroes from the start. I devoured In The Middle. But I agree, that was an unfortunate comment. I can understand her point really, after so many years you start to feel so beaten down by the process, but we find life for the good work and the good fight in each other and-of course-our students. The only hope is for smart bright people to enter the profession because we need them. I don’t see private schools as being safe spaces, maybe from the testing mania, but they have other yokes to carry as well. I love Nancy, but I have had to take issue with some of her comments lately. I’d like to think that perhaps it’s because she’s been in the private sector so long that she just hasn’t seen many of the amazing teachers and schools that still exist in the public system despite all of the challenges. The biggest mistake we can make is to lose faith.

  2. I watched that interview, too, and put it on my blog yesterday when I wrote about mentors. I loved the first part, but you’re right, the end part was definitely deflating. I know what she was trying to say, and I understand her cautionary tale, but we are definitely not technicians! We can stick to our convictions about best practices in spite of what is going on – teaching is an art, and if we can stand strong for our young, upcoming teachers and tell them they can still make a huge difference in young people’s lives, we’ve done a great service. There are tons of kids in the public school system who needs us. Thank you for taking umbrage at her words. I may have to go back to my previous post and add an addendum. 😉

  3. I put the interview on my blog yesterday. I saw it differently then, but now I understand your point as well. We are not technicians. I think Nancie Atwell was expressing a disappointment, a frustration, and that is how she sees it. We do need creative thoughtful young teachers. We need to fight for the children. Thanks for posting this and making me think long and hard about teaching. You continue to be a mentor to me.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes! The push for private schools scares me, as a teacher who has worked in Title I and DAEP settings. Public school NEEDS to be the equalizer for our children, something I truly believe, especially after reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Otherwise, we are missing out on the untapped talents of those who can’t afford a private education.

  5. How sad that after winning such a prestigious award that she would say this. I’m sorry to hear it, Tara, after reading all the wonderful things teachers here share that they do. She is clearly only aware of the problems, but not the wonderful solutions.

  6. This has been a struggle of mine as I watch what is happening in my own state. I have strong convictions about being in public education. I’m the only one in my family that isn’t in the private sector. But I had a conversation with a teacher a couple of weeks ago who has been in and out of the private and public sector. She had me at this statement, “In the private sector I have to do a lot more for myself, but in the end, I’m trusted to make sound educational decisions.” Yes! But I also believe that people who educate children should also make that opportunity available to all children. In these short comments, I guess what I’m trying to say is thanks for sharing this. It’s confirming to know that teachers are thinking about this. And thank you for supporting a conversation. Very well written.

  7. I am so appreciative of your comments Tara. You are absolutely right. I am so fortunate to be in a district that is doing its best to keep a voice of reason and treat its teachers as professionals, to recognize the power of workshop models to be responsive to the needs of students as unique individuals, that teachers are critical in the drivers seat using their expertise to get to know their students and create lessons that are specifically crafted for their unique community of learners. We need bright, passionate, creative teachers to continue to make this happen. All students deserve inspired education.

  8. I didn’t know she said that about public school, Tara. I’m glad you brought it up here. Because all kids deserve great teachers. Too many kids can’t afford private school. Those “best teachers” shouldn’t just be in the private arenas. ALL kids deserve enthusiastic, dedicated educators.

    I could go on, but I have a feeling you know where I’ll go with this next.

  9. Is is so sad that she would make a comment such as this. Yes, public school teachers are accountable, but it takes dedicated creative teachers to reach students and take them on this journey in a way that does not dampen their spirits and turn them off to expanding their horizons.

  10. Oh, wow. I love Nancie Atwell. She has had the most profound impact on my teaching – probably more than other person. I, too, wish she hadn’t said that.

    I’d like for her to come see my district. We are a public school system and are encouraged to be reflective and creative. We are not technicians. I’m sure there are other districts like mine everywhere.

  11. As Terje said – your article needs to be read by Nancy. I always considered myself a teacher – and fought against many of the negatives that were invading our school system. We definitely need smart, creative, eager young people who will bring a spark, a joy to teaching. Wonderful post!

  12. I wish she had not said that either. It breaks my heart. Our school communities are what we make them. We decide if they are safe, supportive, creative, and challenging environment for the teachers and the students. We can’t let standards and assessments drive that. If we teach students to be readers, writers, thinkers, problem solvers, analyzers, they will pass any test we give them.

  13. Thank you for writing this. We are already starting to see a decline in education majors in PA. Subs across the state are almost scarce. Instead of discouraging people from going into education, we need to elevate the respect for teaching as a profession. We don’t discourage young people from serving their country, although it is dangerous. We need our most talented to serve our children.

  14. I agree with you – we need smart, passionate teachers in the public schools. Many districts aren’t locked in to Common Core – mine isn’t. It’s too bad that her message is one of giving up and abandoning some of the students who need us the most.

  15. I could not agree with you more. My all time favorite teachers were those that were able to maintain the passion and excitement of learning while still managing to cover material for the tests. We need creative, young minds who can find new ways to “teach around the material.”

  16. I agree. I do think that the Nancie Atwell that wrote In the Middle is a different person than the one who we see now. Yes her school is great, but it’s not as difficult to be great when you have 10-12 students in a class and total freedom to teach the way you think is right with the resources you need. Private schools are very different. I value what I do in my classroom so much because I know what the constraints are and I find ways to do what’s right for kids within them. I would be proud if my children become teachers and I would tell them they’d be great.

  17. Oh, it just rock my heart to hear her say that!!!!! I travel the country visitingschools and I see so many smart, creative, inspiring thing happening that I just cannot believe she went and said this! So many smart, creative teachers are doing incredible, inspiring work… Dare I say the same work she is advocating for… in spite of… or even because of…. The Common Core State Standards. Thank you Tara for speaking up for amazing public school teachers everywhere!!! And for young people everywhere who might want to teach in public schools one day!!!!

  18. Your post is brilliant, Tara. You are spot on about the comments that Nancie made and so wise to call out the negativity. We are not technicians, and the CCSS do not mandate that we lose creativity. More than ever, students need smart minds in front of them. Thank you. You push us all to think more, a very good thing.

  19. Nancie Atwell’s comments threw me… She is supposed to be representing the teaching profession and then discourages young people from teaching in public school. It made me sad to hear this.

  20. Tara,
    Thank you for sharing this. You are so right, we need great people in public schools. Public schools are essential to the continued forward movement of our country.

    Our children have decided to go into education. I’m so proud of them for this decision because public education needs people who can see the significance of the work they do. I know they will be creative in the way they work and doing what is best for children.

    This: “We need young people to stand with us, in public school classrooms everywhere, to say that these children, too, are deserving of curriculums rich in authentic reading and writing experiences, just like the students in Nancie’s school.”


  21. Oh my, I was unaware of what she said. That makes me sad. I wonder if it sounded better in her head than the way it came out. We need bright young, dedicated teachers. I worry who will go into education.

  22. I saw this video the other day as well and was saddened by her comment. I felt so excited and happy for her, still am, but felt a little bit like the wind was taken out of me when she made that comment. I am no technician either and I will fight for authentic teaching for as long as I can.

  23. You know we agree, Tara. I have just gotten in my hotel after driving from 9:30 last night. I read your reply to my blog on my phone and have waited till this even, upon my arrival, to respond. Your thoughtful comments resonate with me. Thank you for your sharing.

  24. Glad I got to read your post and hear her. I’m sorry that even though I love the fact that was able to find her way she is not taking her role as educational leader more seriously, suggesting a way to crusade for an end to the obstacles to great teachers who need to keep the faith and advocate for real reform .

  25. Thank you Tara. I think I feel like Betsy. Like the wind was just taken out of me. Your comments are spot on and I would love to hear her response to them. Most of our country does not even have the option of sending their children to private schools. Why would she say this? I am saddened. We’re not technicians where I teach either! I am so proud of the work we do.

  26. This makes me really, really sad. I totally agree with you! We need terrific teachers in the public schools. And we need people like Nancie to advocate for us, not beat us down even more!

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