Dear Governor Walker:
I was both surprised and bewildered last week when I saw a news clip of you stumping in Iowa about Megan Sampson, whom you called “The  Outstanding Teacher of the Year in my State.” This was baffling to me since in 2010, I was named Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year (Maureen Look-Ainsworth, Middle School Teacher of the Year; Peggy Wuenstel, Special Services Teacher of the Year; and Michael Brinnen, Elementary Teacher of the Year). In a most humbling ceremony, we were each surprised at our respective schools by State Superintendent Tony Evers and later honored at the State Capital as the Wisconsin Teachers of the Year.
And so, as one of the bonafide 2010-2011 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year, I feel the need to engage in one of the most valuable skills we teach our students, critical analysis.
Verified by multiple news sources, it turns out that Megan Sampson did win an award in 2010, but it was the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award given by a relatively small organization of Wisconsin English teachers (WCTE) for “an outstanding first year teacher of language arts.” She was one of fewer than a dozen teachers across the state nominated for the award.
You failed to mention these details as you used Sampson’s lay-off from her first year teaching position as an opportunity to bash Wisconsin schools on the national stage. You blamed the seniority system for Sampson’s lay-off when, in good conscience, you should have done some serious soul searching and placed the blame squarely on your systematic defunding of public education to the tune of $2.6 billion that you cut from school districts, state aid to localities, the UW-System and technical colleges.*
This Wisconsin Teacher of the Year would like to clarify precisely what you’ve done for education.
2010-2011 was a surreal school year to be named Teacher of the Year as that was the year your passage of Act 10 marked the exodus of thousands of outstanding veteran teachers from the profession they love and marked the beginning of an extreme strain on our ability to continue providing the excellent public education Wisconsin has always been known for.
And what have you done lately? In just the past month, it seems you have once again actively declared war on education in your own state:
- You’ve directed the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to devise content exams that would certify anyone with a degree to become a licensed teacher. The ramifications of this move are nothing short of catastrophic and would grossly diminish what data has repeatedly shown to be the single most important factor in student learning: the quality of the classroom teacher. Allowing someone to teach without any training in HOW to teach, in effective pedagogy, in student behavior, brain research, motivation, and classroom management is akin to allowing someone who says “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on t.v.” to give you a heart transplant.
- Continuing your bellicose streak (war is war, right?) you cut to the jugular by proposing a 13% across-the-board budget cut from the Wisconsin University System, our cornerstone of higher education, the source of much of our skilled and educated workforce, the center for research and development for our state. Aside from clearly being anti-education, this move is clearly anti-growth.
- Psychological warfare has been your most recent tactic when you attempted to (and later tried to blame it on a clerical error) revise “The Wisconsin Idea” the sacred credo of the UW system articulated over a century ago. You sought to omit mention of public service and improving the human condition (you do realize that as Governor, you are considered a public servant?) You also tried to delete the phrase: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” Truth. Hmm…I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about that one.
Your tenure as Governor has demonstrated nothing less than a systematic attempt to dismantle public education, the cornerstone of democracy and the ladder of social mobility for any society.
How our paths have diverged from that August afternoon in 1986. True story: it was freshman orientation just outside Memorial Union. We were two of a couple thousand new Marquette University freshman wistful about what our futures held. Four years later, I graduated from Marquette and later became Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year. You never graduated, and you became the Governor of the State of Wisconsin bent on dismantling public education. Ironic, isn’t it? Situational irony at its best. I’d laugh if its ramifications weren’t so utterly destructive for the state of Wisconsin.
Claudia Klein Felske
2010-2011 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year
Marquette University Class of 1990
*Regarding the chronology of Sampson’s layoff notice and Governor Walker’s term in office, I stand corrected [2/17/15].