Rhee Says Thanks. And Thanks Again
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has taken pains to build more support within the District's teaching ranks in recent months, convening small group chats to hear instructors' concerns and praising them for their hard work. DCPS has even launched a series of "teacher snapshots" on its website to provide a "glimpse of the talent and dedication of teachers in the DC Public Schools."
To fully appreciate Rhee's change of tune, it's instructive to compare her end-of-the-school-year letter, sent to educators last week, with her 2008 version. Last year's edition is nice enough, but the words "thank" or "thanks" are nowhere to be found. The pronoun "I" appears eight times:
"To all DCPS Teachers,
As we approach the end of the school year the central office staff is busy planning for summer school and implementing the many changes we will be bringing to schools next year. As I work on all of these changes from 825 North Capitol Street, I also remember from my teaching in Baltimore that the end of the school year looks and feels very different for teachers.
By June, as a teacher I felt all of the hours of work that I had put into creating and implementing engaging lessons for my energetic students. When my friends who worked in offices could choose desk work on a bad day, the life of a teacher came with the pressure of being 'on' every day at 8:00 am. At the end of the school year I was glad to see my kitchen tabletop again, underneath the lesson plans and homework that had occupied many evenings and weekend days during the year.
Only other teachers understood that 'summer vacation' was no extra 'perk.' It was a professional opportunity we needed in order to reflect on the year and 'recharge' so that we could bring our best selves to a new group of students the next year. Only other teachers understood the bittersweet experience at the end of a school year, when we could simultaneously feel pride for our students' accomplishments; regret for our human mistakes and determination to do a better job next year; sadness to let go of a class and moment that will not happen again; and at the same time an absolute readiness to relinquish some of our more challenging students to their next teachers the following year! I believe it is this combination that helps good teachers to become better as they reflect, assess and improve with each group of students who pass through their classrooms with each year.
As rewarding as teaching is, there are few professions that require more energy, creativity, passion or patience. Teachers need these qualities in order to hold the weight and pressure of a profession that builds the future choices of so many children. As I work in the central office to make District-wide improvements, I am grateful for your work on behalf of our students this year. Whether you are continuing your classroom presence through summer school, or continuing your professional development and reflection outside of the classroom, I wish you a happy and renewing summer!"
Here's the 2009 letter. The pronoun "I" appears once. "Thank": 20 times.
"Dear DCPS Educators,
As we conclude the 2008-2009 school year, I wanted to take a moment to say two very simple words to each and every one of you: Thank you [italics are in text].
Thank you for your passion, dedication, and creativity.
Thank you for believing in the potential of every last one of your students, regardless of background or circumstance.
Thank you for being undaunted by the challenges that you and your students face.
Thank you for spending precious time away from your family and friends to plan, grade, make phone calls, and take your students on field trips.
Thank you for rolling with BAS, CAS, DIBELS, BURST, Everyday Math, Read 180, data walls, Capital Gains, new read-aloud rules, PeopleSoft, and the teachers' contract negotiations.
Thank you for giving honest feedback at my Question and Answer sessions and at the focus groups we held on the new teacher evaluation process.
Thank you for recognizing the new or unexpected behaviors from your students that were really cries for help.
Thank you for never using labels as predictors of aptitude or ability.
Thank you for doing all the things that aren't in your job description, but that our children need.
Thank you for helping your students recognize and respect their differences, but also embrace their commonalities.
Thank you for supporting a colleague who was having difficulty meeting her students' needs.
Thank you for setting the bar higher than even our students thought possible.
Thank you for being a teacher, mentor, coach, therapist, cheerleader,sounding board. disciplinarian and advocate -- all in the span of one day.
Thank you for coming to school before the sun rises and leaving well after it sets.
Thank you for writing songs about symmetry and poetry about the Periodic Table, just to help your students succeed.
Thank you for showing that you love your students by demanding the very best of them.
Thank you for helping the district move one step closer to becoming the highest performing urban school system in the nation.
Thank you for doing the hardest, but most important, work in America.
Thank you for being a DCPS educator."
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