President Obama, Here’s How You Can Get Back to the Classroom When You’re Done Being POTUS

Dear President Obama,

In a recent New Yorker blog post, Three Places Obama Could Teach, Cinque Henderson had several suggestions about what you might be interested in doing after your historic time as POTUS (President of the United States).

All of Henderson’s ideas related to teaching—at a community college, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) or even a high school. I am sure that you receive all kinds of unsolicited suggestions. But, as a public school principal in Philadelphia, please forgive and indulge me while I offer one more.

Some would argue that you have already been teaching a nation of eager and resistant learners through the Oval Office, but I think serving as a guest lecturer for high schools around the country would be an opportunity to motivate and connect with our country’s youth in an entirely new way.

As you know, these have been some challenging years for our nation’s teachers. Beginning with No Child Left Behind, “pressure without appreciation” has had thousands of teachers reeling and feeling beleaguered.

Unfortunately, some teachers have been encouraging students away from teaching. They cite lack of appreciation as well as disrespect and blame that they feel the profession, as a whole, takes on for the colossal societal challenges our students continue to face and struggle with on a daily basis.

But we will need 500,000 more teachers by 2018. Our students need thousands of potential educators to resist the pervasively negative perceptions of leading classrooms. Many teachers say it has only become more intense during your administration. However, the recent reset by Education Secretary John King was a great start to changing the perception about teaching. After your presidency, you can continue to help.

Several organizations around the country, including The Fellowship/Black Male Educators Convening, also continue to serve as a counterweight to the destructive narrative about the profession. Despite the challenges of teaching, the future of our country’s success depends on a well-educated citizenry. Therefore, teachers—or “nation builders”—are some of the most vital vanguards of this work, and should be celebrated as such. It is also well-documented how sparse Black and Latino male teachers are in our nation’s classrooms.

You can continue to influence diversity, excellence and equity well after you leave Pennsylvania Avenue.

We need a mammoth effort to continue to elevate the noble profession of teaching. Having you shine the light on its importance for years to come could send positive ripples to would-be educators.

Teaching in any form, but especially in high schools, would conspicuously motivate and recruit students to consider a career in teaching and, at the very least, celebrate scholarship at an unprecedented level. This is not to suggest that teaching is easy and can be done by anyone—but well-known advocates can play a vital and strategic role in championing current and future teachers.

And, actually, you wouldn’t even need to teach. It actually might be better that you didn’t “teach” to avoid sending the message that anyone can perform the art and technical aspects of teaching. Simply visiting high schools to shadow and observe some of our nation’s best teachers a few times per year would be immensely helpful.

And, unlike other publicity stunts (remember Tony Danza?), your presence would undoubtedly shine a positive spotlight on the classroom and could open up a whole new pipeline of aspiring teachers.

If you shadowed a few of our nation’s best teachers for a full period or two per month, future teachers aren’t the only ones you would be modeling for. This could also encourage many other policymakers from around the country to shadow a teacher and get a little more grounded in what a classroom is actually like, what students need and the challenges that are faced by over 3 million school teachers.

Shadowing teachers isn’t going to give policymakers the full picture, but it could serve as a much wider view than the vast majority of them have now. I know it is a long shot, but just maybe, our politicians—especially those in my state of Pennsylvania who continue to defund schools and falsely posture as advocates for children—could recognize that the future of their states wholly depends on their investment in the education of their constituents. Even if just some policymakers followed your lead on this, they would collectively benefit from more exposure to the needs of classroom.

I know you will be superbly busy after your presidency, so I understand if you cannot commit to shadowing hundreds of teachers per year. However, I hope that you can find the time to shadow a couple of teachers now and then.

If you need any suggestions for amazing teachers to shadow, just let me know. I know dozens.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.



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