As I was listening to Neal Boortz blasting all aspects of “government schools” this morning, I realized that school work and thoughts of school work could not be put off any longer. Despite all of the negativity, all the hours of work and challenges ahead, all of the common misunderstandings about the role of a teacher in today’s society, the nearly insurmountable odds, and the sometimes treacherous working conditions, the job must be done, and it must be done well.
It would be best of all of our students came to school prepared emotionally and physically to learn. If these young people were properly fed, loved and suitably parented and nurtured at home, and if each student had sufficient clothing that is not distracting, we would have a nearly model situation for learning. If the school environment were acceptably heated and cooled, if class sizes were reasonable, and if teacher’s abilities were well matched to the needs of their students, we would be on our way to reaching an ideal state for education to occur. If we had apposite materials for each of the classes, and an inviting environment with the technical support and equipment necessary to teach the mandated course of study, we would have met the optimum condition for a school for our students. We would have also met the conditions that the home-schoolers and conservatives think that we operate in every day. Yet, none of these rudimentary prerequisites that create an appropriate educational environment will be true at our school this year, or many other schools around the nation.
The amount of money spent on education appears monumental at first glance. The level of expenditure has voters upset in the state of Ohio and in our local school district. Citizens who have never worked in a school have no idea why schooling our children takes so much money. Additionally, since these voters pay the salaries of every school employee, they tend to demand services at any time of day or night, and expect the school to work miracles with every average student.
I have never been a pessimist. My experiences in education have taught me that student achievement is possible in many circumstances. From day one, the teacher, as the educational leader in the classroom, must set the tone for success. A teacher must believe strongly in himself and just as forcefully in his students. A master teacher must expect the unexpected, and be eclectic enough to believe in the unbelievable. A teacher must carry a vision in her mind and be flexible in altering and molding the vision as the creative process of education moves forward.
Highly successful teachers invest in the success of their students, find innovative and remarkable methods to motivate students, set high goals and standards, push tirelessly toward specific objectives, and aspire to greatness within their discipline. Teaching and learning is a long distance run, an endurance test with many pratfalls and “easy outs” along the way. Sometimes the educational environment is the breeding ground for epic excuse makers. One thing all teachers seem to know, and all students seem to learn are methods of rationalizing away any wayward form of behavior or failure to meet an established target.
Successful teachers, however, must form alliances with students to .promote achievement and in the process transfer the primary responsibility for learning to the student. Providing the tools for independent learning and exploration is a gift that great teachers can sometimes impart to students. A lifetime of learning, exploration, and enjoyment is often the harvest reaped by a student who has made a unique connection with that one significant teacher.
Like many of you, there are teachers in my background of extraordinary abilities and talents. The impact of their teaching is evident on many of their former students and is manifest in my interaction with students today. Their consummate professionalism and breath-taking skills as musicians, directors, and producers has been an inspiration as I have taken each step in teaching across the years.
With all this talk of achievement, motivation, and success here are a few things I could live without in the coming academic year.
• I could live without the extra heating and air-conditioning requests: we have to ask for heating and cooling, and if you forget-it’s too bad for the students. The so-called energy savings program has cost more in manpower, paper pushing, and days of intolerable heat than we ever had prior to the “savings program.” The beneficiary of the savings program: the school district coffers which stand at a record unencumbered balance while teaching positions were eliminated and academic cuts were implemented.
• I could easily live without “Waiver Days.” Waiver days are two district wide professional development days that are never well planned, and become an excuse to sit around an eat ice cream and talk with colleagues. The students do not attend school on these days at all. What ever happened to teachers and students committing to time on task directed by the administration?
• I could easily live without the magnified educational jargon, buzz words, and unevaluated building wide initiatives that never come to closure. Teachers and administrators seem to be using our faculty and students as unwilling participants in an educational research lab. Our collective heads are spinning as if we had been on a carousel operating in overdrive, and 90% of it is our own making-not the state legislature.
We experience constantly evolving building goals and projects. These projects are added to the never ending stream of ideas flowing from central office into our lowly valley. Some of these initiatives end up as mandates that cause a major upheaval.
Presentations of ideas explored in some inner sanctum are made with pompous fanfares, yet practical reality never enters the forum. We’ve tried everything from advisory groups to sustained silent reading, from a freshmen academy and smaller learning communities to two column notes. Change is great; however, there is no substitute for a dynamic, engaging teacher who effectively plans and implements lessons that culminate in a variety of assessments. How about simply teaching students, developing a rapport with these students, and focusing on curriculum?
• I could easily live without a master schedule that doesn’t work well for students and teachers: there is a serious administrative failure in comprehensively developing and implementing a schedule which permits a student to access the curriculum that he wants and needs. Surely in the year 2006, there is a better way to complete this critical task.
• I could easily live without the overblown emphasis on school athletic teams at the expense of other curricular and co-curricular programs. This one speaks for itself!
• I could easily live without the constant and supremely unnecessary announcements from the main office in the middle of class. There was a period in my career when teaching time was valued in practice, not just in empty words and meaningless directives.
• I could easily live without adults generating and thriving off of rumors and hearsay. Just the facts, M’am. When someone tells me something, I immediately scan it with a common sense truth test. People expend a ridiculous amount of energy on things that are not true. Busy administrators sometimes operate on rumor too. We can all do better.
A wonderful colleague told me early in my career that teaching is the noblest profession in the world. As professionals we should always remain focused on our number one priority: our students. As teachers, we are among the world’s greatest agents of change. We think, we do, we know, and we act. Teachers are creating a challenging and forward looking educational environment that should not be sidetracked by triviality. Standing in contradistinction to a commonly held thought, we are not mind-numbed robots that wake up every morning waiting on orders from the big house.
Surveys show that members of the public more closely identify with their child’s teacher than with the administration, and that teachers have more credibility than administration on most educational matters in the public view.
Although I don’t write about it often, there are many great things in teaching and working with young people. There are great things happening in the public school each day. Maybe I won’t spend this year living with so many things that I could easily live without.