My Journey into the Spotlight

IMG_0443The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. My Resignation Letter went viral through Facebook and Twitter. Within two days of posting the letter on my blog, the Gazette contacted me for an interview; then, KKTV 11 News asked for an interview, followed by Fox News America’s Newsroom before the week was over. A number of radio stations have also asked me to be a guest speaker on their talk shows. My letter was featured at Huffington Post, on Diane Ravitch‘s blog, and many other blogs and websites around the country. I have received emails from people throughout the country, as well as people in China, France, Morocco, and Jamaica. I will be speaking at “A Salute to Teachers!” this week, an event to celebrate and support teachers, so they too can have a voice in the profession they love.

All of this because I posted my resignation letter on my blog and put a link to it on my Facebook page. It is the same process I have followed for over two years with everything I have written. That’s all I did.

It’s interesting that I have been criticized for going “public” with my letter. Honestly, I wrote my letter with my administrators and superintendent in mind. I wanted to thank them for the wonderful years I had at my school. I was hoping to inspire them to fight for our children because I know they too are in this profession to improve children’s lives. I also knew I would post it on my blog. I write as an optimistic realist, hoping to inspire positive changes in people’s everyday lives while accepting the truth of life. My letter fit perfectly with those values; I kept the name of our school and district out of my post to give the school anonymity. My only agenda was to inspire change within my immediate circle; I had also hoped to pick up a few more followers on my blog. I had no idea the impact my letter would make.

There were many moments that first week I cried from the sheer terror of being pulled into the spotlight. I had hoped for a bigger platform to share my position on education, but this was too big, too fast. I wasn’t sure I was the right woman for the job. I almost didn’t call back any of the media requests for interviews.

Why did I? My students. As their messages of encouragement came pouring in, their words gave me the strength to accept what was happening. They encouraged me to proceed. They thanked me for fighting for them. They, in turn, have been fighting battles for me on public discussion boards. They are sharing their own concerns with education and are giving me credit for giving them a voice. There was no way I could let them down.

It has been a difficult, yet incredible journey: I have a great platform now, but it has come at a price. I have largely ignored the negative comments in the public forums because I know those comments are more about the people making them than they are about me, but I still saw a few here and there. It amazes me how many people judged my character, my effectiveness as a teacher, and my motivations based on a 1000 word resignation letter and/or the interviews I had very little control over.

One event that left me open for ridicule was my first television interview with KKTV 11 News. Mecca Rayne interviewed me for an hour in my home. I had never done anything like that before, so I’m sure much of the taped material was unusable. She asked me questions about my letter, about teachers’ salaries in Colorado, and how I felt about my students. I gave lengthy statements, which were paired down to a two-minute segment–a segment that Mecca largely narrated. After the taping was done, I helped her bring her equipment out to her car. It was then that she asked me, off the record, what I planned to do when I moved. I told her that I was a writer, that I had a screen play I wanted to revise, a novel I wanted to write, and with my family’s loving support and encouragement, I would pursue my dreams of being a writer and continue to advocate for public education. I told her I would hopefully start a tutoring business and apply at colleges for adjunct positions. If necessary, I would apply for substitute teaching jobs as a last resort. During the broadcast of the segment, Don Ward, the news anchor, asked Mecca Rayne what I was going to do after I moved away from Colorado. I think Mecca was caught off guard and searched her memory for the things I mentioned off camera. I believe she truly was trying to help me, but her comments made it sound like I “went public” because I was seeking attention for my writing career.

Ironically, the people who believe that I had this ulterior motive are also writing in public forums to make their voices heard.

Although I am excited to have this platform to inspire change, I am saddened that my letter may have put my school (students, teachers, and administrators) in a bad light. Even though I stated how incredible my colleagues are, negative comments filtered through to my Liberty family. Before I wrote it, I had asked my principal’s blessing over writing the letter  and then for publishing it on my blog. He gave me his blessing. Neither one of us could have guessed that my letter would have the impact that it has had. My school administrator has been a great support to me through many personal struggles, and it was never my intention to bring any negative attention on him. I also believe our school is one of the best schools in the area for many reasons: We have kind, intelligent students who are, and have become, some of the best people I know; our students have won many local and national awards over the years; our high-school graduates are doing great things in college and other post graduate experiences; about 70% of our students go on to college. Those students have found a way to rise above the current educational system. I am extremely proud of our school.

Why did I write the letter if all of these things are true? Because over the past eleven years, I have been more and more concerned over the 15- 20% of students who have given up on their education; I have become more concerned for those high achievers who also have high stress in their lives (three of my brightest students committed suicide over the past seven years, and more than I can count have tried and, thankfully, failed). I saw things getting worse for my students, not better. I needed to do something, and what I do best is write.

People have also criticized me because I didn’t offer any solutions. I am not aware of a precedent for offering solutions in a resignation letter, but I have been offering solutions for over two years now on my blog. I’ve posted those in “Education Reformation.” I plan to continue writing about the changes I’d like to see and to invite other people to share their stories and perspectives on my blog.

I am not giving up on my students or public education. I will continue to fight for them no matter how hard this gets. With greater support, I know we can make a difference.

Thank you for giving me this platform; I will not let you down.


26 thoughts on “My Journey into the Spotlight

  1. We live in a cynical society, Pauline, and there will always be those who can only see nefarious motives behind everything. You have good ideas and you have your heart in the right place too. I hope you’re able to make good use of this moment and to spread those ideas into a culture that needs them. Good luck!

  2. I have hugs and kudos from two different groups of teachers in two different schools in two different states to give you the next time I see you!

  3. Pauline,
    I am so glad we became good friends in high school, and I am so proud of YOU!!!
    Keep caring & keep writing!
    Our kids our depending on teachers like you!

  4. You go girl…..teachers get it….the rest think they know it all because they went to school. Fight the good fight in all you do!

  5. This just makes me want to cry. (Happiness of course:) I’m so glad that you’re not giving up. I can’t imagine the immense stress involved in all of the interviews, but I know you’re strong Ms. Hawkins. I think that the people that are hating just don’t understand how screwed up everything is. Their eyes aren’t open enough to see it. Thank you for doing what you believe is right and I’m so glad to have had you as my teacher. I’m not wanting the school year to end because you’ve been the best and most caring teacher I’ve ever met. I hope for great things after you move 🙂

  6. I am a new follower. I read several posts to be sure I wanted to keep reading, and I did. I wish I could homeschool because I think of all my kids are missing. My fifth grader told me they are learning the states and capitals, but only when recess is cancelled. They are too busy doing the dreaded DI. Argh!

    I am looking forward to hearing more from you.

    1. Thank you for your support and following my blog! I know how you feel about homeschooling. That option is still open next year for my son. We’ll see how he does at his new school.

  7. We need voices like yours. American like their children’s teachers but are convinced by 30 years of the failure narrative that our schools are disasters. Meeting teachers like you via this format helps them realize they are being misled and many many teachers deserve our support.

  8. You did everything right. The powers that be that hold fear in the hearts and minds of teachers and students (and many principals too) are nervous. Too many teachers are speaking out, but on the other hand, this is exactly what they want. They want mayhem and fear. Don’t give in.

    You know what you’re doing is right. We know it too. You’re speaking for so many who are stuck in the system and lost right now.

    You are making progress.

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    Mahatma Gandhi

  9. You know you are doing something right when you draw negative criticism because you are challenging the paradigm and those who complain are getting nervous from hearing your perspective. Change is stressful but avoiding it leads to mediocrity. Experience makes you stronger.

  10. “Courage doesn’t happen without fear; it happens in spite of fear. The word courage derives from ‘coeur’, French for ‘heart’. True courage happens when we…choose to act anyway, out of love. – Julia Butterfly Hill
    Thank you for your courage and heart. Let’s DO this!

  11. Hello! I’ve never had the pleasure of having you as my teacher at Liberty, but I’m glad I had the pleasure of seeing you around school and hearing wonderful things about you from my classmates. From reading your blog posts, I think you are doing incredible things. Keep using your talents as a writer to communicate to the world what you believe in. Thanks for fighting for education and good luck!

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