Why are our schools failing my children?
This has been bothering me a little bit lately, so I just want to get it off my chest and my mind.
I grew up in a family where my mother worked as a dedicated educator in a private school. She made very little money (4 digit salaries most of her career) and reinvested most of that back into her classroom purchasing materials and providing experiences for her students. As the teacher’s kid, I was always one of the first ones there in the morning, and usually the last one to leave – a habit that carried over into my own work ethic when I went into education 2 decades ago.
We had textbooks, and workbooks, and we took “SRA” tests. We didn’t have computers in the classroom ~ or cell phones ~ heck, we didn’t have calculators because they cost too much. The school shared an Encyclopedia Britannica set located down the hall in a small and cramped library with a bunch of well loved and taken care of titles that likely my mother had read when she went through school.
I understand the sacrifice that teachers have made in education. Our family ate later than everyone else. As I got older, I was a latch-key kid, letting myself in by myself when I walked home from the bus which dropped me off in any weather about .75 of a mile from my parents home. (And yes, it was uphill on the way home!)
But today I see teachers backed by strong unions complaining that they “get no respect.” They show up slightly before the first bell, leave after a contractually demanded 30 minute work period. They demand discounts and special treatment, yet often those things don’t translate to the classroom. I hate to see the amount of materials and services that each day are wasted by educators that feel “I don’t get paid for that” while others could benefit greatly and must go without.
In my circle of friends I’ve heard accusations that teachers shouldn’t stay late or work outside of school because it will become EXPECTED of them. Don’t fix the technology, because it is someone else’s job. I was once grieved for moving my desk so that my back was no longer to my window.
A typical classroom I walk into today has about 25 students in it ~ sometimes more. If each student received just 15 minutes of individual attention in the 6 instructional hours available there would still not be enough time to validate every child. Take from that passing times, assemblies (as another friend just experienced, getting students to sell magazines improves their achievement how?), and all of the time lost to general silliness that includes discipline problems and administrative oversight like testing to make sure our schools aren’t “failing.” It’s hard to make sure that children are succeeding when we set ourselves up for failure with “no child left behind.”
Where teachers once used to set benchmarks and deal with “scope and sequence” today we have state and national standards, and universal textbooks with content set by states with strong influence over those textbook manufacturers. In many classrooms themes and activities have been replaced by chapters in the textbook. Suggested lesson plans in the teacher’s edition have become THE lesson plans for the classroom so we can guarantee McDonald’s like consistency from classroom to classroom and school to school. New teachers in the past 10 years have known nothing different. In many classrooms I visit I now feel like the “art” of teaching has been lost to the “application” of a formula.
At the same time we have wonderful new robust communications networks in our schools. 38 states are now part of Internet2. Wiring loans and grants over the past 10 years have brought fiber connections to remote communities, and placed computers in almost every classroom. Cell phone providers now offer high speed services in more communities which include podcasting services, internet access and unlimited text messaging. Moreover an increasing number of students in K12 are walking around with these devices in their pockets! Web2.0, or the “Read/Write Web” has turned every child into a publisher, and given every user the opportunity to have a voice.
Yet our textbooks, which take 6-7 years to come to print and be approved and deployed, don’t yet know how to embrace virtual worlds, social networking, and instant publishing. Our classroom doors remain “closed” because teachers have not received training. (And it is not solely a question of access to training, for where it is available it is often underutilized.) Where teachers have gotten trained, filters tied to funding legislation and criminal repercussions mean that teachers can’t seize the teachable moment with students. And for the few cases where access exists and filters don’t provide insurmountable hurdles, we have Acceptable Use Policies restrictive enough to not put any child “at risk.”
All of this perhaps wouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it hits really close to home. I see the effects on my own children. Without calling anyone in particular out, for all of the accountability and prescriptive teaching we have put in place, we’ve forgotten we are teaching children. Money flows freely for special education services while budgets tighten in other areas. Field trips are cut. TAG services have been squeezed. Energy and transportation costs have gone through the roof. And unions are telling teachers that it should not be THEM that spend the extra time making sure the children are not the losers.
If you’re one of my 7 readers – I will admit you’re probably not who I am talking to. I really want to give my son’s teacher this year the benefit of the doubt. I know it is the system that is broken, not entirely the teacher’s fault. But I sure wish there was more than 10-15 minutes in the day to help inspire and lead my sons, offer them opportunities and help them become future leaders. I do everything I can to spend that time myself, interested in what happens when I am not around, and working with my boys and their friends through Scouts and sports. I feel bad for those children whose parents can’t or won’t make those same commitments.
Perhaps this isn’t the most upbeat post I will ever write ~ but as I said, it’s something I feel that I need to just get off my chest so it doesn’t keep weighing me down. I sometimes think that I would love to home school my boys. Maybe even hire a private tutor for even just a few hours per day ~ an outstanding private educator.