Sunday, November 6, 2011

A letter found in my files

A few weeks ago, I was looking through a few of my files and ran across another brilliant piece of writing by my friend Lois.  

I've blogged about her before... she was a mentor, friend, and fellow teacher for many years.  Lois died on June 23, 2008 after a lengthy battle with breast cancer.  I wrote about her strength and endurance in Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  And, not a day goes by that I don't think of my teaching days with Lois, Judy, and Randi (under the incomparable leadership of Laura)... those were the days... thinkers and learners, together!  We mentored one another and asked big questions and children were always at the heart of our work and conversations and inquiry into "What can we do next?"  I yearn for the professional discourse we shared... "all for one and one for all!"

Lois had a masters degree in Gifted Education and an amazing knack of meeting the needs of all children--those who were "dormant" and those who were "highly-abled."  She looked at children as individuals (including her own three children).  She was always reflecting on her teaching.  She was always reflecting on the needs of her students.  She was a writer, artist, mathematician... a teacher's teacher... and constantly honed her craft.  Yet, she was one of the most humble and nonjudgmental people I've ever met... she was shy, until it was time to stand up for a child.  She was not afraid to take a stand.  I admired her courage.

In 1999, she wrote a letter to our "Student Support Team" (at that time part of the pre-referral process) after referring a child for "support" and she shared a copy with me.  In kind, I thought I'd share it with you.  Why?  I find it apropos.  I think it speaks to our need to support the learners in our care.  I find it thought provoking.  I think it's intriguing.  I think Lois was a thinker before her time.  

I'm using this letter as a bookmark in my current professional read.  I've read this letter at least ten times in the last few weeks.  Like Donald Graves, Lois was a teacher whose work will always remain current... the words of great thinkers continue to inspire me.  Please enjoy her words, they speak for themselves!

I think Lois wouldn't mind my sharing it (I removed names and pronouns to make it generic):

January 31, 1999
Dear Members of the Student Support Team:

Even though many of the members are my close friends and respected colleagues, I have found taking a student to this committee a frustrating experience.  In my opinion, issues of timeliness, purpose and respect are important for us all to examine. 
First of all, dealing with this committee has caused extreme delays in getting help for my students.  I submitted three names to the committee two months ago.  You just got around to the first of my students this week.  Now we have another six weeks of "interventions" before the follow up meeting on March 11.  In my opinion, twelve weeks of delay is unacceptable and unnecessary.  Who knows when you plan to begin my other two students?

Secondly, the purpose of my referral was misunderstood.  The student I referred is not failing.  ___ is not failing because of the many interventions (which apparently you do not count as interventions) put in place my myself, by specials teachers, by previous teachers, and by very concerned and conscientious parents.  My point, as stated on the pre-referral form, was that all these interventions should not be necessary for a student who appears to be competent in many ways.  I believe there is something wrong with ___ processing of information and am concerned that the middle school staff will not be as diligent as we have been.  This ___ with so much potential is in danger of getting lost in the system and may give up.  More interventions, while welcome in many situations, were not appropriate in this case. 

Finally, there is the issue of respect.  Brainstorming, in front of parents, such solutions as preferential seating and presentation of directions auditorally and visually was insulting and demeaning to me as a classroom teacher.  If this is necessary for some teachers, parents do not need to be present to hear it. 
In conclusion, the present system for S.S.T. is cumbersome, ineffective and insulting.  Please withdraw the names of my other two students, ___ and ___ from future consideration.  I will find other ways to deal with their problems.  With all the criticism of public education today, we do not need to do this to each other. 


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