Diary of a pre-certified teacher, Vol. XVI: The letter is as good as any

Augustine Brehon Contributor
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TO: Thomas Toch

Executive Director

Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington

Washington, D.C.

May 5, 2010

Dear Mr. Toch:

I’ve decided to go all-in. Your organization, Association of Independent Schools of Washington (AISWA), recently posted a want ad on Craigslist. I think I would be the best person for the job; indeed, I feel like my qualifications will put me far past the other applicants. There is, of course, one thing that may contradict that—the fact that part of my application will be an anonymous diary I have kept for the past six months, a diary which has been published in installments in The Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson’s website. The “Diary of a Pre-Certified Teacher” is about the process of teacher certification.

I thought about just writing a cover letter and sending a resume to you, especially since my diary can be intense, personal and opinionated. It’s also written under a pseudonym, which was done to allow me the freedom to criticize or praise my professors and classes without it affecting myself or the class. I didn’t want to resented as judgmental or appreciated for praising the teacher.

I decided to apply in this unusual way when I remembered that day in 1986 when the Washington Post called me. I had written a five page single-spaced letter explaining to them why a certain piece they had published was garbage, and in return they had invited me down to meet with a couple of the editors. They asked me to freelance for them, and I have been ever since. Ever since then I usually figure it’s better to be yourself and come across as an intelligent lunatic than like a milquetoast without any guts or creativity. Better to live with the boldness of a Nietzsche or a Chesterton than be a member of what Chester Finn called “the herd of independent minds.”

Let’s get to what you’re looking for:

The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW), a highly regarded non-profit organization supporting 86 diverse schools and 35,000 students in the Washington, D.C., region, is expanding. We’re growing our membership and launching new programs and we need a talented, hardworking associate to take on a range of administrative, research, and writing tasks.

The successful candidate will work closely with the AISGW team, helping administer AISGW events, implement new partnerships, and manage AISGW’s new website when it launches this summer. The candidate will contribute to AISGW’s data collection, research, and publications and help manage the organization’s daily office operations. And the candidate will support Executive Director Thomas Toch, a nationally known education policy expert and writer.

The job offers an opportunity to work with talented educators and many different types of outstanding schools, and to gain exposure to a wide range of education issues.


AISGW is a fast-paced and team-oriented environment. The successful candidate must be a hard-working person with strong analytic skills; a self-starter who is comfortable managing a number of tasks at once; and a colleague willing and able to work closely with others. The job requires strong oral and written communications skills and a high degree of proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite, especially Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

A professional demeanor and good judgment are critical. A bachelor’s degree is required. And experience with nonprofits and familiarity with independent schools are a plus—as is a career interest in education and education policy.

AISGW is an equal opportunity employer. We evaluate all applicants enthusiastically, without unlawful consideration of race, color, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, national or ethnic origin.

I think I can cover that—and go well beyond it. As you’ll be able to see from my diary entries—that is, should you decide to read them—I do have an interest in independent schools. I went to them my entire life, wrote a book about one such school, and now I am a substitute teacher in one as I take courses towards certification. Outside of school I’m a journalist. This summer Doubleday will publish a book of mine, my fourth. I have a professional demeanor, even without being humorless.

I have been impressed with your work, from your book to the article in the Washington Post about how merit-based pay is not the great solution it is made out to be. What I liked so much about that—indeed about all of your work—is that you do not come across as an ideologue. You challenged the case for merit pay by laying out facts: that merit pay is usually not that much; there isn’t any real evidence that it improves education; that teacher evaluations are often inaccurate; that teachers value respect more than money; and that tests don’t accurately test intelligence.

I would take issue with those last two, but we can get into that if we have a chance to meet.

I also liked your article “Measure for Measure” that was published in 2005 in the Washington Monthly. Again, what impresses is how you did what journalists rarely do these days—you did hard reporting and only after that did you reach conclusions. Specifically, you discovered that some kids in a Dallas public school were making great advances in learning, even though they had a low ranking in the No Child Left Behind Act, passed by the Bush administration. This was because NCLB was testing how all kids did on a standardized test and ignoring kids who had made tremendous progress from one year to the next. You called for a new measurement, a “value-added” test that recorded the progress kids made rather than their score on the No Child Left behind standardized test. You argued persuasively that if a kid, due to proper attention from a caring teacher, went from zero to 60, it was worth noting—even if NCLB only gave kids a pass who hit 70. This was—is—an important observation that deserves more attention.

If you read my diary, you’ll see that I was also willing to let reality lead me to conclusions that contradicted my presumptions. Schools do tend to segregate themselves along political lines, and that is a shame. Teachers can be vindictive ideologues. But someone with an open mind has to be ready to change that mind. I did so when my classes and my professors turned out to be different than I thought. My “Foundations of Education” professor encouraged and rewarded critical thinking that questioned the orthodoxies of the education establishment. My “Introduction to Special Education” professor changed my consciousness. I like to think that I have always been a gentle and compassion person, but her class made me see the disabled in a totally new way, and led me to understand the incredible contribution such kids can make. “See the person not the disability” sounds like Hallmark boilerplate, but by the end of the semester—our final is next week—I had actually learned to do just that. I also had a grasp of the law regarding individuals with disabilities.

None of this is to suggest that there isn’t a time and a place to call people out using broad strokes. A 5-year-old can see that the D.C. public school system is broken. The new film “The Lottery” reveals, with shattering emotional force, the desperate situation of many poor families who join a lottery just for a shot at getting their kid into a good school. The good news is that the charter school movement is growing in D.C. Freedom is in the air. School is no longer a choice between Animal House and Cornelius “Nails” Herlihy, the Gonzaga Prep Jesuit who once aimed a starter pistol at a tardy student—who did not know it was a starter pistol with blanks—and fired. Your work assesses the current climate, and does do with facts and elegant writing rather than hysteria (the conservatives) or resentment (the teacher’s unions).

So that’s it. I’d like to work for you. It would be a perfect fit for my passions and my interests, not to mention the fact that you would most like be understanding as I take more course to complete my certification (not to worry, I wouldn’t leave you for the classroom; a job writing and researching for AISGW would trump that). Approaching it in this way may have been a dumb gamble, something that’s too cute by half, but let’s face it: In this economy, you’re going to get a stack of resumes. A person needs to do something to stick out.

If you click on my byline above, it will bring up the entire series. I hope you’ll find it interesting. Also, I will email you a resume. So you’ll know my real name.

Pedagogically yours,

Augustine Brehon