Happy New Year! Now Let’s Get To Work

This is the first of many installments of The Unrealized Republic that will double as an open letter to elected officials here in Maine and across the country. I will write each blog post in 2017 as an open letter to an elected official or group of elected officials in an effort to help us, the people of Maine and The United States, remain grounded in a collaborative effort to make our state, our nation and our world a better place. This seems like a common sense goal for individuals elected to pass and veto bills intended to become laws, but at the onset of a new year we are witnessing a social and political mindset that is more focused on belittling and shaming. The Unrealized Republic is about looking within ourselves, our surroundings, and our traditions to find ways to thrive as a whole community, at the personal, local, state, national and global level. This is not a blog about ways to achieve enlightenment, get rich, or gain power. It is a blog about thriving as a human community within a greater ecosystem, something I hope my elected officials work toward as well. For the first post of the New Year, I am returning to the topic of teaching and learning.

My first open letter is to the State of Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

Dear Chairpersons Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock County) and Representative Victoria Kornfield (D-Bangor), and the rest of the Joint Maine Legislative Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs:

A year ago this month I stood before you at an open hearing to discuss a proposed bill that would impact math and literacy standards in the state of Maine. I fielded many questions from Committee members about the current content standards, their implementation, and what it means to Maine students and teachers every time those standards change.

I was thanked and commended for my testimony, and was inspired to begin this blog, which began as The Unrealized Maine Classroom. Throughout 2016, I wrote about public schools, about innovative teachers, about student engagement, and about creating a rich environment for learning. My ideas and comments came from interactions with colleagues, with students, and from my own ten years in public education as a middle school teacher, a Title I Coordinator, a math coach and math strategist. Some of my ideas and comments received praise and others were surely flawed, but I believe we engaged in a dialog that helped to inform and hopefully excite educators and education stakeholders about the amazing potential for innovation and excellence in education we have in our small, mostly isolated, northeastern state.

I write to you today to ask that in 2017 you consider every item that comes before you with the excitement and passion one feels when one has stumbled upon a great discovery, with tremendous potential for positive change. Scientists feel this way when a major breakthrough is imminent; teachers feel it when their students show great engagement; parents feel it when their children accomplish something substantial. We want children to feel that excitement too, when they discover a new strategy, or grasp a new concept, or understand an important piece of history for the first time.

With every piece of legislation that lands in front of you, consider whether or not it prioritizes innovative and excellent teaching and learning for all teachers and students. Let us not be distracted by test scores, accountability measures, bottom lines and business practices. Instead, let us focus on what kind of learning environment taps into the hunger for and love of learning that every human being is born with. It is no longer acceptable that our students are bored in school.

What can we do to provide the best teacher training opportunities in the country, right here in Maine?

What can we do to provide for our students the absolute best learning environment for young people of this generation, right here in Maine?

What can we do for the professional culture of teaching to draw the best people into the teaching profession, and keep them there?

What can we do to make Maine schools the absolute envy of the nation? What is stopping us?

Every piece of education related legislation should be looked at through the eyes of an education stakeholder that knows Maine should be a national and world leader in education. Change is not happening fast enough in other parts of the country, so it is time we open the door to innovation and excellence in Maine’s public schools. There has never been a better time to make that happen. As trends lean toward allowing states to make more decisions, let’s take advantage and create the kind of equitable learning opportunities that result in students coming home from school excited about what they learned, what they tried for the first time, what they discovered, what they accomplished in school.

We have the resources, the spirit, the passion, and the perseverance in Maine to make our schools stand out. As legislators, please do everything it takes to help us get there. Ask questions. Look beyond our international borders. Think beyond the test. Abandon the culture of accountability in favor of a culture of excellence and innovation. Educators will be supportive of that, and once we’re all on board and working together, nothing can stop us.

Sincerely,

James Gale
The Unrealized Republic

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for eleven years, and a passionate writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a certificate in math leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife and dog in Bowdoinham.