Highly unQualified: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Thirty-five years’ experience as a public educator, and it comes down to this.

I somehow knew all along that I’d be sorry for getting a teaching degree and wasting my life’s work on educating children and young people. How could I possibly save enough money to buy that job as Secretary of Education?

For those of you unfamiliar with teachers’ salaries, my annual income as a classroom teacher never exceeded $45,000 a year. While it’s true that some states are more generous with their teachers’ salaries than Virginia, my home state, the fact remains that teachers just don’t get rich. I’m grateful to have saved some money through the Virginia Retirement System.

But now I’m told my retirement fund most likely will be diverted to build a wall somewhere.

And now the rich lady—sans education degree, experience, and the ability to Google education terminology to prepare for questions about education—is driving the boat. Woohoo! Is she over 25 years old yet?

I’m asking because I learned in my Adolescent Growth and Development class that the brain is not fully developed until about age 25. Maybe that would explain her inability to retain information, to speak coherently about education issues, to study and understand complicated education policy, to have developed a sense of right and wrong.

Her being at the wheel is just plain wrong.

So, it occurs to me that maybe we should just let all the children out of school now. Send them home. Why wait?

Think of how helpful it would be to use the money going for teachers’ salaries to build that wall or maybe we can spend it on the war that is fomenting around the globe, ratcheting up daily, even as the bought-and-paid-for senators choose the least qualified person ever, to take charge of public education.

But really, no need to keep the kids in school to educate them about the Constitution, that old relic of bygone days.

Education itself has become obsolete too. Who needs it? It’s certainly not required to get a job anymore. Inherit enough money, don’t pay any taxes, and a person can buy any job she wants.

Silly me. My job required advanced degrees and years of experience. I thought that would make me a better teacher.

I was told all those years that I needed to be a “Highly Qualified Teacher” to keep my job. They even said I might get a 2% raise (a whopping $900 a year) if I took (read “paid for”) one more course over summer vacation, attended eight more in-service sessions, ramped up my game to teach 30+ students of varying abilities/disabilities in every class, graded papers at home every night and every weekend, attended a minimum of three after-school activities a week, wrote notes, sent emails, called at least 15 parents a week, and learned to recite chapter and verse the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, learned to follow an IEP (Individual Education Plan), became knowledgeable about compulsory reporting requirements, FERPA, Brown v. Board, WIOA, Title IX, ESSA, and so on and so on.

All this and more while my 14-yr-old in 3rd period tries to explain away the black eye she didn’t have yesterday and my over-age boy in 5th period falls asleep because he worked the night shift at McDonald’s and my kid with an IQ off the charts asks me again for another book to read because he’s bored.
All this while trying never, ever to complain or call in sick.
All this, and more.

Yes, that’s pretty much the life of every public school teacher, just so you’ll know, Betsy. It’s a damn hard job. And you wouldn’t last one day in the classroom.

Now that I look back, who told me I had to manage such a workload, and of course, care about the children first and foremost?

Who held my feet to the fire to become a better teacher, to be “highly qualified”?
Who pontificated about how our children deserved only the best teachers that public dollars could buy for that lavish $45,000 a year?
The politicians, that’s who.

You know, those people who are NOT educators? (To be fair, some of them did attend public schools as students, which some think qualifies them to write education policy.) I suggest you sit in on some sessions at your local statehouse when education policy and expenditure of funds are being debated and report back on the rich knowledge base, deep reading, and clear articulation of the needs of students and teachers that politicians demonstrate.

Expect to be disappointed.

The hypocrisy is stunning. Politicians demand that teachers be highly qualified. These same politicians then choose the most unqualified person ever to steer the ship.

Nevertheless, here we are. Horace Mann is turning over in his grave. (Maybe you can Google that one, Betsy Boop.)

All the commitment and perseverance and love for children, for the profession, all the hard work against great odds, all the long hours and endless preparation to be the very best, not to mention the barely livable salary, all have been discounted. And I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that the majority of classroom teachers are women. This, too, is yet another example of how women’s jobs languish at the bottom end of the pay scale for professionals, somewhere below dirt.

All of us, all teachers in America, just got sand kicked in our faces.

But we’re a scrappy bunch. We’ve spent a lot of time on the playground. Our brains are fully developed. Look for us in schools across the country tomorrow, and the next day and the next day, taking care of kids, wiping noses, studying Robert Frost and World War II, leaving school just before dark, way after contract hours end.

We’ll pick up our crummy paychecks and soldier on.

You can bet on it. Our kids mean a lot to us. Why else would we be doing this thankless job? And any one of us will be happy to instruct Betsy on how to Google Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

No hurry. Whenever she’s ready.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore Flickr via Compfight cc


  1. Thank you for verbalizing this Marsha. It needs to be said. She is just one of DJT’s stable of highly UNqualified people placed in important posts. I just don’t get it: why don’t people realize that education is the key to all of society’s ills (ignorance is the problem), and here it is being demeaned by the appointment of someone who cares more about money and prestige than educating the young of our country, the future voting generation,( if they don’t get shipped off as ignorant cannon fodder to fight in some mindless war of our creating). And this is not bitterness, it is bitter realization of a painful truth.

  2. Marsha, as always, your words reflect the view of thousands, or perhaps, millions of teachers who know the real score. . . Public schools have survived because of the dedication of teachers who go so far over and beyond the “contract” (always underpaid) and the God-given desire of most students to learn and grow, many of whom come to school with ‘baggage’ that accrues from uninvolved parents, lack of proper nutrition/sleep, abuse from adults or bullies, . . . .

  3. . Hopefully someone else can post here and give us the plus sides of Ms Betsy DeVos. I am sure she has some. This article seemed so bitter and hateful. It never really went into detail why this woman is unqualified. It never gave me anything to judge her on.

  4. Thank you, Marsha for the essay from the perspective of an educator. I can’t imagine how disgusted and saddended you must be by the current political administration as a person who has dedicated their whole life to teaching. DeVos is such a disappointment.

    I applaud your dedication, service and efforts.


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