Dear Governor Ducey,

I tumbled down a very large mountain in Colorado as fast as I could so I could be back in time to write a letter to tell you how surmountable seemingly impossible things are. Downhill is not the only direction. There is also uphill. Which is not my favorite. It reminds me of things like campaigning and assessment and making dentist appointments. It’s a slog. My legs hurt. I hyperventilate. But then I loosen my chest and hip strap, let the weight hang on my shoulders and keep walking. That’s how I made it up the mountain. That’s why my teeth are so clean.

Some of the women with whom I walked up the mountain had to go back to teaching on Monday. People think teachers get summers off. My teacher friends don’t take any time off, as far as I can tell. They take workshops. They teach workshops. They go to trainings. They read the books for their upcoming classes. They re-do their lesson plans. They paint the hallways of Puente de Hozho. They return emails from their former students asking for advice about college. They meet with parents worried about their kid going into fifth grade. I think teachers love summers not because it’s a great beach vacation but because the things they wanted to get done over the year get pushed to summer and then they work their butts off to get them done. Meanwhile,  we also climb mountains to talk about what the heck we’re going to do about the way charter schools take money from the public schools and leave the public schools with more work and more emails and more hopeful students and fewer teachers and counselors to work with.

Last week, I wrote about how there was a tipping point in 2005 or so, maybe, at the public schools when things got rough. Or the sentiment got rough. But I know that for every teacher that might have missed one student’s dyslexia, there were 40 who spent late afternoons after school, working with dyslexic kids. As I noted earlier, people love beautiful buildings and the dream of 15 kids per classroom. It’s easy to fall in love with a dream for your incredible child and the idea teachers will love them and support them one on one because they are unique individuals deserving of that special attention, but every kid is special.

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Here’s a call to arms. In the middle of an election season where we all are paying attention, standing up for education, let’s stand up for everyone’s education. I, after hiking long miles and sleeping few hours, think two things need to be done.

  1. If you send your kid to a charter, you should still volunteer at your public school. We are a community. The charter schools segment that community. Bridge it. The public schools, had parents invested as much in them as they do their charters, never would have reached that point of rough. So go to your public school. Do a career day, read to kids, take them on a forest hike. Do it for free. If everyone in Flagstaff did one hour of public school service, well, then, I’ll shut up about charter schools.
  2. Dear NAU Faculty. Connect with the schools. President Cheng has done an incredible job raising our research profile. Let’s show it off to our students. Take your math and your history and your chemistry to the students at public schools. They have an amazing university right next door. They should have access to the awesome work you do. Again, an hour per professor. Change the world.

I know we all work hard. We have jobs and kids and too many projects. I can’t do it all either. This weekend, as I had planned, I did not campaign to get out the vote, read my colleague’s essay, finish edits to After-Normal: Essays in Search of a Future, respond to all 428 emails (I did respond to 321 of them), finish moving the dirt in my backyard, put contact paper down in my cupboards, spreadsheet the budget for next year or fully plan the Graduate Student orientation. But I made a plan to go into the schools. To write an object lesson with some fourth graders and a braided essay with some high school seniors because why live in Flagstaff and work at NAU and have kids if you’re not going to connect all three together? Education? It’s surmountable if we get it together.  

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com


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