Dear Betsy: An Open Letter to Betsy Devos

Dear Betsy,

This is not acceptable.  Please allow me to elaborate.screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-9-37-41-pm

Whether teachers agree with it or not, you are now the Secretary of Education, and we have the option of a perpetual standoff or trying to engage in meaningful discussion.  You lead the department that oversees many crucial programs to America’s public education system.  In doing so, you now have a profound connection to America’s public school teachers.  I am not looking to talk about policy yet.  I am hoping to set the tone for what could hopefully be a working relationship between you and the public education community.  How you choose to proceed is up to you.


I would like to introduce you to the people you are going to work with over the next several years: Educators.

We are passionate.  I don’t want to speak for other professions, but as an educator and someone who often communicates with other educators, this is incredibly important.  The vast majority of educators across this country care deeply about the young people whom they serve.  There are many issues I never personally invested in before becoming an educator and knowing a child that would be impacted.  


Not all of us are afraid of change.  Many of us work hard to create positive changes in our schools.  We explore, experiment, and implement a variety of things each year in order to better serve our kids.  It is part of what makes education an interesting field for me.  I love that there are always new things to learn.


You may have noticed a pattern.  I don’t just call them students.  They are my kids.  I don’t say I teach them; I serve them.  

Education is a service profession that provides so much more than what federal and state data attempts to quantify.  This is the cornerstone of my career, and I know I am not alone.  The parents of students I have worked with will be happy to tell you what it means.

Most of us understand the need for accountability, the desire to make education better for all of our kids, and the value of developing quality educators.  We recognize there are some teachers in our ranks, like in every profession, who are not good enough or who have lost their drive, but that is a small minority.

This is a short introduction to the people with whom you work and communicate.  For the sake of public education in America I hope you learn to communicate.  You tweet you sent at the end of your first day speaks volumes.  I am not someone who believes you need to have attended or worked in a public school to lead the Department of Education.  It wouldn’t hurt, but it isn’t a requirement.  What is required is that you attempt to understand public school teachers, parents, and students are, and the realities we face. This tweet is evidence that you do not yet.  I believe you want to work with us to make schools better.  However, it is a patronizing attempt to endear yourself as “one of us.”  Let me be clear about this, you are not.  You will likely never be one of us.  Please don’t pretend otherwise.  It is better for all Americans if we face hard truths?

What else would help all Americans?

Visit public schools.  Talk to teachers about their experiences.  I understand you have been rebuffed from school visits, accosted, and treated in a manner you surely feel is inappropriate.  Rather than run from those people, address them.  Rather than ignore their frustration, embrace it.  Teachers are passionate and dedicated professionals and passions have run high.  We should work together to create powerful, positive change in education for the good of Americans.  Please persist in  visiting public schools.  Please spend time getting to know what educators do each day.  Address the anger teachers feel by offering to listen to them, observe what they do, and the struggles they need to overcome on a daily basis.  Spend time with public school students.  Shadow students in various classrooms at various age levels.  Find out what it is like to be a child in public school.  

This is the path forward to forge a working relationship with America’s educators.  I understand the relationship has not begun well.  You were not our choice, you are not one of us, but that shouldn’t stop us from working together to help America’s children.  Please  take the time to understand us, understand what we do, and understand a different view.  A recent common saying for educators is “the smartest person in the room is the room”, meaning the best ideas are generated in a room full of intelligent people during positive discourse.  That will be hard work for you, and for us.  I, for one, am willing to do it if it means improving the future for our kids and I hope you are as well.



Brian Costello


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