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Matt Damon’s speech at the Save Our Schools rally, July 30, 2011

“I think you’re awesome!”

I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to Kindergarten through my senior year in high school I went to Public Schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself— my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity— all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned— none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success— none of these qualities that make me who I am… can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep— this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, “My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.”

I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the “right” bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here, I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: as I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “over-paid”; the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything…

Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you, and we will always have your back.

Comments

Ann Apostolico — 30 July 2011, 20:27

Thank you!

Lars Jefferson — 30 July 2011, 20:43

Thank you for your kind remarks!

Claire Merced — 30 July 2011, 20:55

Thank you! It is so nice to know that there are still remarkable people in US that value and respect teachers in public schools.

Renee Hargrove — 30 July 2011, 21:24

Thank you so very much; this is exactly what I needed to read before returning to work next week. I’ve been given a new prep and I’m expected to somehow prepare sophomores to pass a new test—a test that we know absolutely nothing about.

Colleen Lloyd — 30 July 2011, 21:27

Very touching, I teared up. Thank you for this, not just as a teacher, but as a human being and parent.

Lisa Buckner — 30 July 2011, 21:36

Thank you!

Cfadel — 30 July 2011, 21:43

Something important Matt said, his Mom refused to let him be tested. I believe this NEEDS to happen. How can we organized people to rebel against standardized testing. WE need hundreds of thousands to WALK OUT of the test.

Maryna Badenhorst — 30 July 2011, 21:54http://marynabadenhorst.global2.vic.edu.au

I was moved reading this, even though I live in Australia. I think teachers don’t hear this enough: Really,like someone else said at the SOSMarch: “What do teachers make? Teachers make a difference, that’s what!” Keep up the good fight. There are millions of people just in the USA behind you, but more than that, millions around the world are behind you.

Eric — 30 July 2011, 22:05www.JoplinKids.com

Thanks Matt!

Roger Curtis — 30 July 2011, 22:06

Dear Mr. Damon, it was so good of you to take the time (and incurr the costs of making such a visit). Your words do make a difference and they won’t be lost in the sands of time—in my time anyways. And this is because I, like so many others, believe you are right. There are millions who are behind us. You, sir, are awesome.

Karen Nguyen — 30 July 2011, 22:13

Thank you so much. Your words,and the words of parents and students who approach us personally do so much good.

Alveda M Zahn — 30 July 2011, 22:16

Thank you so much!I am sobbing and speechless.

Mary — 30 July 2011, 22:21

Thank you for you heartfelt comments.

Tara — 30 July 2011, 22:53

I actually felt my eyes sting a little. Thank you.

Margie Adkins — 30 July 2011, 23:11madkins@sps187.org

Thank you so much for the kind words. It’s so rare that teachers hear these sentiments, and it means so much to us!

Kelly Selva, LAUSD — 30 July 2011, 23:55

Thank you so much. We need to hear things like this. It has been a hard decade, but we’re hanging in there, for the kids.

Jeanne Berrong — 31 July 2011, 00:56

Thank you!

June MK Gustafson — 31 July 2011, 02:49

Thank you for your support!

April Dorman, EGUSD — 31 July 2011, 03:06

Thank you so much!

Marsha Schuch Boylan — 31 July 2011, 07:34

Your speech was inspiring Matt Damon! I had the privilege of heaing it in person. Thank you for listening to teachers and taking the time to be at the SOS March!

Donna Whalen — 31 July 2011, 08:28

Thank you! Two simple words but they mean so much!. I will share your words with the staff at my school who did not have the privilege to be in Washington DC to hear you speak. It made my day!

Rodger Hunwick — 31 July 2011, 08:51Askteacherz.com

BIG Thanks to you Matt for your kind words and inspiration to go forward. My wife and I are both educators for 18 years each and we have truly been demoralized because of the “bashing.” Upbeat and heads held high we continue to educate each and everyday the students that we are blessed to instruct each day. Again thanks.

Ellen — 31 July 2011, 09:06

Thank you for your words of encouragement. Because of this testing and the CEO reformers that you mentioned, lots of teachers at my school lost their jobs this past year. I’ve only been teaching during this decade, but it has been getting tougher every year. I will stick it out for my students. As a teacher and parent, I thank you.

Edward — 31 July 2011, 09:21http://2000ah.blogspot.com/

Fantastic speech by Matt Damon so glad to see a public figure like him standing up for teachers and the kids.

Jessica — 31 July 2011, 09:31

I will share this! Such a simple and important message that gets drowned out by so much distracting and harmful noise.

Penney Gilliland — 31 July 2011, 09:37

As I cry, please know how much I appreciate your saying this. I can tell you mean it too because I can hear your voice in your writing. I do not think there is a test developed that can measure this. Bless your heart.

Richard — 31 July 2011, 09:51

Thankyou, your words also echo in Australia

Lisa Perry — 31 July 2011, 09:57

I’ve loved you since Good Will Hunting. You were great in that but this is even better! Thank you so very much!!

Marianne — 31 July 2011, 11:15

Matt - always loved you BUT you are looking through this through your own prism of experience. Fine if you have a professor mama and great teachers, but when 3/4 of students in the urban cities are reading below grade level SOMETHING IS UNEQUAL and UNFAIR. We need tests to determine equity. How do you suggest we tackle the inequality of high quality education? How are you going to ensure that poor kids can demonstrate the SAME knowledge, content, critical thinking, etc. as some one with the advantages you had? subjectively assess it??

Rachel — 31 July 2011, 11:42

Thank you! This is wonderful. I am terrified for our public schools. Professional educators and scholars are the ones who need to be consulted when making educational decisions… Not overbearing politicians, business men and lawyers who have never educated anyone. Testing has resulted in so many negative consequences that it has become disturbing. Schools are being privatized and converted to business models because this is how the rich got rich, but it is not the way to run a school system. Who does the business model serve? Or better yet, who does it not serve?

Cheryl Gerstung — 31 July 2011, 12:59

Thank you for those wonderful, inspiring words we needed to hear! The government needs to step away from micro-managing everything, including education! It’s a shame that it’s 2011 and inequality is still evident in our school system!
Thank you for your support!

Kathy — 31 July 2011, 13:10

The words you said about you are who you are can not be tested hit home. Public schools and the teachers who enter their doors each day want each of their students to have the opportunities to explore all their options. Thank you, Matt. I wasn’t there, but with your message in print and the videos I’ve watched, I feel as if I was. Thanks again.

meranmomm — 31 July 2011, 14:41

thank you, thank you thankyou - as the mother of two teachers I am so familiar with them being underappreciated and at times subject to abuse from parents and administrators. It is time for the politicians to really look and see how much time and how much in funds out of their own pockets are involved for teachers. It is not just a 9–3 job with summers and holidays off. Most of these teachers work extra and really care about our kids. If they don’t, those are the ones to deal with.

Lacy — 31 July 2011, 14:42

Until your child gets a teacher who is nothing more than a bully, empowered by tenure to do nothing more than demoralize a child. The damage can be detrimental. My daughters have had WONDERFUL teachers over the years, but it only took one to create a hostile environment that she no longer wanted to participate. She lost her fire. It is unfortunate (to say the least) that it is these teachers that have ruined it for all (teachers and students).

Lacy — 31 July 2011, 14:43

Until your child gets a teacher who is nothing more than a bully, empowered by tenure to do nothing more than demoralize a child. The damage can be detrimental. My daughters have had WONDERFUL teachers over the years, but it only took one to create a hostile environment that she no longer wanted to participate. She lost her fire. It is unfortunate (to say the least) that it is these teachers that have ruined it for all (teachers and students).

Jane — 31 July 2011, 15:11

Thank you!I admit to retiring early (on doctor’s orders)due to depression and high blood pressure. Having to teach lock-step with every other teacher in my level was too much for me. I applaud your message and the supportive comments it has received.

Margaret — 31 July 2011, 15:12

Marianne: Testing does not determine equity. It determines who can play the game. Poor children and children of means are not equal…they are different and must be taught such. That is why so many urban children are below level…they are being taught the same ways and with the same approaches as those froma different cultural background. Students in different cultures can not be taught with cookie cutter curriculum and these tests do no determine a student’s level of critical thinking! Multiple choice versus open ended questioning? Right and wrong answers versus reasoning and justification? What’s wrong is when students need to be critical thinkers but are being taught like robots. Thank you Matt Damon—now the choir has received the message, get it out there to the ones who control the funding!

Elisa Waingort — 31 July 2011, 15:14

Thanks, Matt! It is nice to know that there are people like you who will stand behind us and will support us through thick and thin. As a teacher you almost never know the impact you have on your students. It’s nice to read your words and hear how teachers have affected your life.

Elaine Calkins — 31 July 2011, 16:09

What a wonderful sentiment of appreciation and encouragement. Mr. Damon’s speech and his career are indeed tributes to the teachers who have supported, loved and encouraged him to love learning and nuture his own strengths. Good educators do this every day, because they love learning and love enabling students to “seize the day” and “keep their eyes on the prize”. I’m proud to be an educator! Thank you Matt Damon for this affirmation!

Grace Arellano — 31 July 2011, 17:11

Dear Matt, Thank you so much for your words. It is good to know that there are people out there who think that education is important. As you have seen, there are many people who have bought the idea of “standarized testing”. I have no issue with testing, but when you base EVERYTHING in the outcome of a test, the results are devastating.
Regardless of how hard or how long this battle will last, one thing is for certain, students are being robbed of quality education to become TEST TAKERS instead of LIFELONG LEARNERS!!! I sincerely appreciate your support, your kind words and your RESPECT!!!

Erin M. Reid — 31 July 2011, 17:35

Heartfelt! Thank you Matt for your kind words and for stressing public education. As a public educator, I never teach to the test. I teach with passion and my love for learning…. In the end the students continue to perform well.

Amy Jackson — 31 July 2011, 17:41

Matt Damon for Education Secretary!

Marie Bridgewater — 31 July 2011, 18:30

Matt Damon, you rock, sir!

Karen — 31 July 2011, 19:15

I told someone yesterday that I wished I was old enough to retire. I read this and cried. My 21st school year starts Aug. 8, and I’m excited to see my new 2nd graders. Some people get it. Thank you Matt!

Melissa Hopper — 31 July 2011, 20:25

Truly touched by your passion for quality education. Thank you for being a shining light for educators.

Mary Soderholm — 31 July 2011, 21:28

Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! I wish more people would stick up for teachers and all the work we do or have done or are planning on doing. Public Education has been the backbone of this country for a very long time and too many people fail to give it the credit it is due. Bless you!

sheila — 31 July 2011, 22:35

You, like all teachers, “…touch the future” with your comments. I cannot think of anything anyone could have said better than your words. I, like you, am indebted to all of my teachers and to all who taught my children.

J Spiegelberg — 01 August 2011, 00:47

Thank you for the encouragement!! If I were starting out now I certainly wouldn’t go into this profession. I have been teaching 27 years and I was lucky to know the joy of helping children become excited about learning. Now it is sooooo controlled by an uninformed set of legislators and the government, that we no longer have time to enjoy teaching and learning. I use to cook with my first graders and grow plants and do experiments etc. Now it is mostly preparing for testing. So SAD!!!

JS — 01 August 2011, 07:22

Thank you Matt Damon!

bamjr — 01 August 2011, 07:51bamkeramitchell.com

Matt Damon’s dunder-headed speech. http://bit.ly/oRq8EP

L.C. — 01 August 2011, 09:41

I am glad that someone has a message with substance. I’ve said it over and over again, schools are a business and all of the programs, tests, are special interest groups looking for their time to capitalize off the education system. It’s called, “follow the money.” If we actually think that Michelle Rhee, Arnie Duncan are interested in our kids, I don’t believe so. They are on the band wagon of supporting the interest of those who are looking for an opportunity to have their program to be adopted, implemented and executed. “We’re in the money.”

JL — 01 August 2011, 11:31

Amazing and inspiring!! I haven’t had much reason to be motivated about this school year, but I feel like your timing on this speech was great and much appreciated. Thanks for your kind words!! It is all about this kids that I influence everyday and that will be my focus each and everyday!!

Tim S — 01 August 2011, 17:42

Thanks, Matt!

Tammy B — 01 August 2011, 18:22

Thank you so much! It is wonderful to know that you appreciate academia in a time when so many are working against teachers; trying to turn schools into businesses to scam our tax dollars. Charter schools love putting our taxes in the investors’ pockets instead paying for services for students, materials for students and infrastructure for students.

Martha Garcia-Gallaga — 01 August 2011, 19:47

Thank you!!!… Very envigorating!

Becky S — 01 August 2011, 20:30

Thank you..It really helps our spirit..

Jen K — 01 August 2011, 22:09

Thank you. I wish more people would speak up and share their stories.

Jana — 02 August 2011, 06:57

Matt I am starting my 36th year of teaching! I needed to hear your words! I too have been so concerned about how we motivate and teach our children. I was once the teacher you describe, but have been so beaten down by the state of education today, and the public perception of our profession. Your words will help me do what I do best that’s love, motivate, and instill the curiosty that sparks the imagination of our children.

Dori — 02 August 2011, 08:52

Matt, I could hug you! Thanks so much for inspiring words as we head back to school. 36 years of teaching young children and still going strong because I love what I do. But I fear the changes I am seeing and the stress that it puts on children and teachers. Kudos to you and wonderful teachers everywhere!

Dori — 02 August 2011, 08:52

Matt, I could hug you! Thanks so much for inspiring words as we head back to school. 36 years of teaching young children and still going strong because I love what I do. But I fear the changes I am seeing and the stress that it puts on children and teachers. Kudos to you and wonderful teachers everywhere!

Becca B — 02 August 2011, 11:57

This kind of discussion is not helpful. We simplify the sides and create unnecessary polarity that impedes change.

Yes, my heart breaks for teachers who are under-supported and overworked, and we need to do better at thanking them for their efforts (Thank you!). And standardized testing is not the answer, it is used poorly in many instances, and, when encouraged as the central focus of educating is foolish and damaging. I agree with all these points.

But where does that leave us? Because the fact is, there are many teachers in the classroom who are just not effective, and we have no means for removal of tenured teachers barring some dramatic infraction. And while a culture of testing may be detrimental, we need a better culture of assessment so we can better understand the skills and needs of students. Kids across the country are receiving vastly different quality educations, and we heretofore have not been addressing or measuring that discrepancy.

America ranks low in international student performance measures, and it is not because we lack the skills or potentials. It is because our systems are not working effectively.

While I agree with many of the points of the SOS March, it is representative of the polarized, oversimplified, and solution-light rhetoric that doesn’t get us very far in making real change. It is thrilling that so many people are engaged, but we must do better with acknowledging our SHARED GOALS, SINCERELY LISTENING (even if some opinions and approaches differ), and working in a COOPERATIVE, NON-COMBATIVE PARTNERSHIP.

Please, stop simplifying the issues and riling up anger and blame without providing concrete steps forward.

Teachers, organizations like the Teachers Union Reform Network have really exciting approaches to utilizing the unions as epicenters of reform… hows that for a place to start? The transformative potential of all this energy and will is thrilling!

Blessing Bammiro — 02 August 2011, 22:24

Not only is he cute but inspiring. Way to go Matt. I can tell he spoke from the heart. I wonder what would happen if we could get more celebrities involved in promoting education. Not saying that everyday people can’t do the same. I just wonder what a movement that would be:)

Pam — 03 August 2011, 14:23

Thank you. I, too, come from a family of teachers and have been a teacher myself for the last decade. Not once did I ever consider salary, benefits, or vacation time when I made the decision to pursue education. I love to teach and was born to do so. I work way more hours than ANY of my friends in different fields. I am proud to do so. None of this matters. My work is rewarding. I know I make a difference. That is why I teach. That is why wonderful colleagues teach. We are not villains but hard working, self sacrificing professionals. Thank you for your kind, intelligent, courageous words. We all appreciate this support.

Michelle Thomas — 03 August 2011, 16:27

Matt, with all the negative words we educators hear on a daily basis, your kind words and your advocacy are much appreciated. Thank you.

Mary Mahony — 04 August 2011, 00:03www.reddingpress.com

As a former resource teacher teacher and writer, I thank you not only for your sensitivity and support of teachers, but for being a good role model for the youth of america. Somehow, I think in part thanks to your mom, you have stayed normal in spite of your success as an actor. Your comments are not only important to teachers but for all those kids who wonder if going school is really all that important. Just hearing your perspective will hopefully help them to forge ahead and open their minds to all that a public education can provide.

Cam Kilgour — 04 August 2011, 09:20

Your sentiments are welcome. Wish that some of those corporate titans and the political elite echoed your thoughts because they recognize the value of public education for each person in a civil society. The quality of life in any nation may, in part, be a function of the quality of a vibrant public education structure with the supports that are necessary to sustain an intelligent, compassionate culture.

Belinda — 04 August 2011, 11:49

Thank you for the kind words of support!

Kate — 04 August 2011, 18:44

To read your statements, see you speak (video)…. it helps lift up with dreary spirit. I LOVE LOVE LOVE teaching. This will be my 18th year. And sadly, it is the FIRST time I can remember NOT looking forward to returning to school shortly. I’m not ready for the personal attacks, bashing, entitlement, etc that has come into my classroom, email, phone messages, interactions with parents (and some students, sadly). I’m just not. If only we could fix educational issues for our nation without bashing those who strive to support dreams and student growth/learning. THANK YOU for your comments and support. I hope your commentary goes VIRAL and get the attention of the millions you refer to at the end of your speech.

Maggie Beddow — 05 August 2011, 15:32

I LOVED that Anderson Cooper featured the reporter and cameraman who questioned Matt Damon about teacher tenure. His response was classic and made them look ridiculous. Thanks for sticking up for all the hard-working teachers who definitely are not in it for the $, but for the great work that they do for children.

Leigh Kenyon — 05 August 2011, 21:55

I’ve been teaching Special Ed for ten years. It’s my second career; for the 20 before that I was a legal admin. assistant. I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference. Well … I know I have made a difference, because I still have students I taught at the beginning of my career keeping in touch with me, and telling me I made a difference. But as time goes on, frankly, it gets worse and worse. This past year was nothing short of traumatic, and I’m not using the term lightly.

And Matt Damon just made me cry.

Annette Hughes — 06 August 2011, 22:52

You must learn about ALEC as their legislation is behind this problem

Michele Barsodi - Takei −07 August 2011 12:06 p.m. — 08 August 2011, 12:06

As a counselor and teacher for thirty years with the Department of Defense Overseas Schools for thirty years, I can attest to the truth you have expressed in your speech. Teachers always appreciate that students and parents value their efforts in the teaching process. Teachers as human beings impart their knowledge, their concerns, and their generosity of time to each student which no standardized test will ever measure.

Ms. Fields — 13 September 2011, 12:57

As a new teacher I am motivated by this speech. I’ve been discouraged by the politics of the profession, but this speech gave me a renewed sense of promise that someone besides educators understands how we feel as educators.


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