Dear Governor Scott Walker,
I am Megan Sampson. I am a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a life-long learner. I’m twenty-five years old, and I live in Milwaukee. I’m five-feet tall, I hate barbecue sauce, and I’m terrified of bugs. I grew up in Green Bay (go, Pack, go!), I graduated from UW-Milwaukee, and I know how to drive a stick shift. Also, did you know that my mother is a hairdresser and my father is an excellent bowler?
No, you didn’t know any of that. All you know about me is that MPS laid me off last spring, and I was named “Outstanding Initial Educator of the Year” by WCTE. Usually, I would have to admit that even knowing those two things about me is substantial (I’m not a celebrity). However, considering the capacity in which you utilized these two aspects of my identity, I am hurt by the fact that these two things are the ONLY two things that you know about me. In fact, I don’t think you really care to know much else about me. You see, I believe you used those aspects of my life to further your political agenda.
I pride myself on being a reasonable person with an open-mind and a genuine desire to empathize with people. Even when I am feeling most riled and upset, I often find myself trying to understand the source of my discontent. So, instead of using this letter as an attempt to demoralize your decision to write about me in the Wall Street Journal, I find myself trying to understand your side. As I struggle to understand your thought-process, I can’t ignore the authentic possibility that you couldn’t care less about me as an individual. I mean, you didn’t even bother to reach out to me. It would have been so easy for you to contact me! But, then again, there is also the chance that you were genuine about this all. Perhaps you honestly believe that this bill will directly impact me in a positive manner; perhaps you truly see my story as reinforcement for your confidence in this decision. If that is the case, I have this to say: I wholeheartedly appreciate the concern, but I’d like you to take a second to view this from a different perspective.
The perspective I would like you to consider is one that is all too often ignored as adults debate educational reforms: the perspective of a student. Imagine that you are sixteen years old again, and you want nothing more than to graduate from high school, go to college and land your dream job. You are beginning to understand the importance that education plays in your journey to success, and you are really starting to see how the skills you are learning today may actually be useful in the future. Sure, you aren’t amped to go to school everyday, and you don’t love all of your classes, but you want to succeed, and even if you sometimes get frustrated, you do appreciate your education. As a sixteen-year old, you know that you know A LOT, and you know that there are so many people who don’t understand you, but you still find comfort in the support of those you trust. And, at the age of sixteen, those you trust come in all shapes and sizes–moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors, celebrities, and politicians. Even at the green age of sixteen, you know that trust is a powerful thing, and you know that it is something that shouldn’t be tampered with.
The trust that my students have in me, in their school, in their families, and in their social lives doesn’t even come close to the trust that they have in the idea that “leaders are there to look out for the good of the group.” Sixteen year olds, in all their rebelliousness and idealism, find comfort in the idea that democracy and government protect us. I know I always did. I mean, I am twenty-five years old, and I still don’t know enough about politics to develop supported conspiracy theories that would actually prompt me to pack my bags and leave the country. But you see, that’s just it–the people who are often most willing to freely trust are also the ones who are in most need of protection.
I will be the first to admit that collective bargaining has its weaknesses, but I will also confidently state that collective bargaining is important. Not only is it important for the protection of workers, but also for the protection of our future. Trust me, I wish that every protection agency and group were perfect. But trust me again when I say that imperfect collective bargaining is better than none at all.
Since the story in June that was published about my lay-off, I have learned some very important things about collective bargaining. One of the things I have learned is that school budgets and lay-offs are so much more complex than just “collective bargaining” issues. Just like anything else in this world, we could talk circles around all the places to point the finger.
As I stood in my classroom today and addressed my classes, I found myself feeling disheartened. Looking out at the twenty-five faces and taking in the posters and pictures on the walls, I couldn’t help but imagine what the future may hold. Will I have to re-configure my classroom to allow for ten more seats (when I have thirty students in my room, no one can move at all)? Will my students get to know me as well as they can now if I have ten more students in the class? Will I be able to notice those students who need me to check up on them or give them extra help if I have no prep time? Will my zest and passion diminish if I have five courses to plan for instead of three? Will they know how much I care about them even if my time is stretched too thin? Will some of them still dream about becoming educators? Most of all, will they know how honored I am to be teaching them even if my profession is demoralized?
In the end, Governor Walker, I want you to know that I am a real person, with a real story, and a real passion for education. I worked my butt off to get where I am, and I continue to work my butt off because I don’t know how to do this any other way. If you knew me, you would know that my successes, my opinions, my passions, and my realities are directly related to my devotion to teaching. Your use of me in the past few days has not only interrupted my teaching, it has also interrupted the life of my school community. Regardless of which political party you or anyone else identifies with, you cannot ignore the substantial value and respect that education deserves. My profession and the entire educational system deserve to be treated and referred to with dignity. What you did with my story was undignified.
Now please, as you move forward as our leader, consider the voices and perspectives of those who are trembling and fearful in the wake of this bill. As we are left with feelings of vulnerability, we need to have a voice and we need to feel support in order for us to develop trust. I encourage you to think of me, Megan Sampson, standing in front of a class of twenty-five sixteen year olds as you make decisions that will affect my ability to impact those kids. And as you think of me, please know that there are thousands of other teachers with real names, real stories, and real students who need to be able to trust you as well.