Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today I am grateful for teachers.  Better grab a seatbelt, go potty, and pour a cup of coffee because I’m angry and reading this is going to be a commitment!  Be advised that these are MY opinions. I don’t expect everyone to agree.  But I’m sick to death of parents, voters and the government blaming teachers for every problem connected to public schools and the failing education of children.


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If you graduated from high school even three presidents ago, then you need to know that things have changed.  Big-time.  If you graduated so many presidents ago, in the days of the IOWA Basic Skills Test, and you can’t even remember the presidents, then the changes in schools are light-years from what we grew up with.  If you haven’t been in a school since, then you seriously do not have a clue.  Not a clue.  Sorry.  But you don’t.


If you want to exercise your right to bitch about teachers and haven’t been in a school for 20 years or more, then I suggest you find a way to get inside a school and check it out immediately.  Do it before your next diatribe on how teachers only work ten months, then have summers “off”.  Keep your eyes open while an elementary teacher re-directs 26 or more kids a hundred times a day.  Or when a middle school or high school teacher tries to break up an escalating argument, inches from a full-blown fight during class change and gets reprimanded when an administrator sees him/her because the students have “rights”.  Which individual leaves a situation like this feeling empowered?  The teacher?  No way.  Any power they ever had is pushed out the window when children know that the teacher is no longer in authority.  Gone.


Even getting inside a school to volunteer isn’t easy anymore.  You’ll need to submit to an interview, perhaps a few medical tests and for sure a criminal background check.  If you do get selected to volunteer you will not be able to just walk into a school whenever you want to.  You’ll have to be buzzed in and present your license for a further background check.   Gone are the days when you can simply show up and say, “I’d like to help.”


If you do get inside a classroom, be prepared.  Some classrooms hold a healthy balance of students, but not all.  In many cases students with severe discipline or learning disabilities are mainstreamed into regular classes.  This makes it difficult for every children to learn and sometimes impossible for a teacher to teach.  How can you teach when you’re constantly doing crowd control?  Or when a student bites you or hits you when you try to get them to stay on task? You can’t.  But you’re expected too.  Every day.  Because you get summers off so what more do you want?


You will not always find obedient, teacher-pleasers in classrooms.  Sometimes you will find surly, often angry, non-compliant and rude children who have been led to believe that they are entitled to receive everything and anything they want, while putting in little or no effort themselves.  This is not the fault of the teachers.  This is the fault of a society that has given our children too much power before they are ready to handle the consequences.  They are children!  This same society has taken power away from teachers at a time when they need it most.  They are adults! In some schools, in some parts of the country, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.  Some parents don’t look at schools as places where their children will get educated, they see them as daycares.  Not all parents, but some.  Many, even.  They get angry when teachers have training days or snow days because they are burdened with no one to watch their kids.  I get it.  I don’t like it, but I get it.  It’s a sign of our times.


On whose shoulders should the successful education of our children and grandchildren lie?  Ours?  Their parents?  Their school district administrators?  The school board?  Elected officials?  The kids themselves?  Me?  You?  The guy who drives the school bus?  The cafeteria worker?  The secretary?  Or only the teachers?  You tell me because I think we all have a share in each and every child’s future, but maybe that’s just me.


Remember the days when we oldies-but-goodies went to school?  We walked there in the morning, home for lunch (where mom had a bologna sandwich and a glass of milk waiting), back for the afternoon and then home again.  Our moms were at the door waiting for us with a snack or at least a “Hey, how was your day?” or a “Go play outside and get outta my hair!”  Those days are over.   These days, in most households, both parents work. . . both parents HAVE to work and I, quite frankly, don’t know how they do it.  It would kill me.  Some of those parents are responsible beyond belief and highly invested in their child’s school day.  And they are exhausted.  Good parenting is a 24/7, frustrating, difficult job.  No one tells you that when you’re having sex to make those children, but they should!  Some parents are beyond stressed, burning the candle at both ends to keep one step ahead of the poor house, and all they want is for the teachers to handle everything.  Don’t call them.  Don’t bother them.  Just do what needs to be done to get them to the next grade level and leave them out of it.  Teachers can’t even get them to sign a necessary paper.  They are too busy.  Blah, blah.  I see both sides.  I don’t like it, but I see it.  And I saw it plenty when I worked as a school secretary.


As this school year closes, many of you will run out to get the teachers a small token of your appreciation.  That’s great, but I’ll tell you what I think they really want besides gift cards.  I think they want actual appreciation. . .from administrators, parents, our elected officials and their students.  I think they want to know that their avocation, their calling, is still an admirable profession.  I think they want respect.  I think they want to be able to SEE your children as they are. . . and not look at them as a test score liability if they struggle to learn. . .or a boost to their “numbers”. . . if they are brilliant and test well.  I think they want to see your kids thrive, even though our education system isn’t set up to teach children how to think, but rather to learn for the test and only the test.  I think the No Child Left Behind Act has done more to destroy our public education system than all of the bad teachers or neglectful parents could ever do.  And I think it should be trash-canned immediately or seriously revised. . .with teacher-in-the-trenches input on what the revisions should be and not some  bureaucratic news-hound who likes to hear himself yammer in front of a microphone.


I’m ranting.  I know.  I could rant more.   I still have to rant about the importance in your child’s education of good, dedicated support staff (custodians, bus drivers, lunch aides, nurses, secretaries, etc.) and the lack of respect and abysmal pay they receive for the enormous job they do.  And don’t get me started on the importance of the arts (musical instruments, singing, art classes, theater, etc.) in a well-rounded education and also a well-developed human being.   I won’t forget about coaches, whether within the school district or not, who are also teachers.  But those are posts for another time.


This is about teachers.  As I type this, as fast as my thoughts will spill out, I know that I had a typing teacher who drilled discipline into my fingers making it possible. . . and fun.  Mrs. Hinckle allowed me to write business letters in a creative way, instead of the cookie cutter version the syllabus required.  She couldn’t do that now.  Not with today’s burden on teachers.  And if she looked to my future for gratification that I’d be a writer, she’d have had to wait 30 years, because that’s how long it took for me to start writing.  Still, I credit her!  And my final chapter is far from being written!


When I look way back I’m thankful for Miss Meerdink, my first grade teacher who cast me in a classroom play that changed my life and gave me a love of theater I will take with me to the grave.  A lot of teachers now can’t find space in the schedule for something this time consuming.  Not today.  Today it’s all about “instructional time”.  That is the most BS term I’ve ever heard.  Again.  My opinion.  All time in a school is instructional!  Even a visit to the office, or nurse, or custodian can be instructional.  All of it!


How could I have made it through high school without the everyday support and smiles of four-foot-nothing, cumulous-cloud-haired Annie, the custodian?  She saw me.  ME.  Not a statistic, or a “D-”student with a loud mouth and a “fresh” attitude.  Me.  Could she take the time now?  No way.  She’d be too busy trying to get her work done at one school so she could hustle off to clean another because of budget/staff cuts.


Then there is Vito Intravia, my high school choir teacher.  I spent three years of my life devoted to his class.  He was a wide as he was tall and more Italian than Pavarotti. Every time he conducted he broke a baton on the music stand.  Every time.  He had drawer full of tiny, busted up batons that he used on a daily bases, saving the new ones for concerts, where we’d inevitably watch a piece fly into some girls beehive hairdo during the first song.  He was passionate about music and passed it on to us.  He gave me, a poor student at academics, with no aptitude for sports, a reason to show up for school at all.  He taught me the power of responsibility and team work, of listening to those around you, no, not just listening, but hearing!  He taught me the importance of being controlled in quiet passages one moment and powerful and strong in another.  Go ahead and cut the arts and deprive your children of this experience.  The arts aren’t “necessary”.  Those teachers should be doing something more important, like preparing for the next ridiculous test, because they don’t work much and have the summers off anyway.  Get real!


Teachers have two months off in summer and they need every single second of it.  They are required to update their credentials and many spend the summer taking classes.  But hey, why can’t they do that during the school year instead of holding the Math Night or Science Fair?  Their families should accept that just to keep from drowning, many spend every night writing lesson plans, or grading papers, or studying new curriculum.  I know Learning Support teachers who don’t even leave the building until the custodian closes it at nine or ten p.m.   But they get summers off.  Big whoop!


They deserve every minute off because teaching is harder now than it ever was.  Most of the teachers I know don’t mind things being more difficult.  What they do mind is no one noticing how much it’s changed. . . how difficult it is to measure up to a standard that makes it nearly impossible to succeed. . .for them, or their students.  Well I notice.  I hope you notice, too.  Then go vote.  Get people in public office who notice!  The time for change is NOW!  (And no, I’m not running for office.  I’m too mouthy.)


Today I am grateful for teachers.  Every single one of them.  The good ones. . .and the questionable ones, because each and every one of them does a job that would send many of us screaming into the night with hourly frustrations.  There is a bumper sticker I’ve seen.  “If you’re reading this, thank a teacher.”  Thank a teacher today.  In person.  So you can look into their eyes when you do.  Or handwrite them a note.  They’ll save it.  I guarantee it.  Teachers sow seeds, casting them to the wind knowing full well they might never see the finished crop. . .your children. . .as the educated, well-rounded, employed, kind, compassionate adult citizens they deserve to be.  God bless teachers.  Every one of them.