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Why Divide Your Thanks, Mr. President?

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Dear Mr. President,

I'm not one for the Hallmark Holidays. I don't make a huge deal over Father's Day. My wife and I agree every year that Valentine's Day is a good excuse to have a nice dinner and not much more. So I wasn't going to make a big deal over Teacher Appreciation Week. It's a lovely thing, especially this time of year when teachers are pushing through to the end of the year, but it isn't usually the kind of thing I usually really think that much about.

Except this year.

This year, you chose National Teacher Appreciation Week as the week you also chose to declare as National Charter School Week.

Why would you do that, Mr. President?

I've racked my brain all night long trying to figure out why you would do that. It's not like you didn't know it was National Teacher Appreciation Week -- after all, Secretary Duncan posted about it on the Department of Education blog. So why conflate the two, Mr. President?

This is the week we could be celebrating all teachers -- public, charter, parochial and independent. All over this country, every day, teachers in all kinds of schools do their best to help America's children, and this could be a week where we don't care about the management divide of schools, but rather took the time to simply be thankful that over four million Americans choose to make their career's work teaching America's children.

But that idea -- or at least the idea that your administration supports all teachers -- rings hollow now. When you -- in the same week -- celebrate one kind of school, when you say that one management structure serves "as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country" to the exclusion of other kinds of schools, you -- intentionally or not -- send the message that the rest of us count less, matter less, innovate less, teach less.

And you did that the same week that we could be elevating all members of the profession. Why?

If this was not a deliberate attempt to marginalize those of us who choose to teach in the public school system, then it was exceptionally poor timing. If it was a deliberate attempt to do so, why would you choose to do that? I really don't know how many body blows public school teachers are supposed to take. Here in Philadelphia, for example, we are feeling more than a little frustrated lately, so these kinds of mixed messages are particularly hurtful right now.

Most teachers do good work in anonymity. Every now and then, we get mugs or ties or thank you notes, and honestly, they make a difference. You, as leader of our nation, could have simply said thank you to all of the wonderful men and women who teach America's children. Instead, you let us know that some teachers are more equal than others, based simply on the kind of school they teach in.

And as a public school educator, all I can say is this:

Duly noted.

Yours truly,

Chris Lehmann

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