Saturday, February 18, 2017

In Public

I am used to hearing how awful our public schools are. Often this line of rhetoric comes from the very people in charge of our public schools. It is more than a little discouraging to have the ones steering the ship telling us that we are hopelessly lost. But, in the wisdom of Yogi Berra, we're making good time. I get up each morning and head to work with the knowledge that I am working for a team that ranks fourteenth out of fifty, with nothing that says we will be competing for the top spot anytime soon.
Part of the challenge here is that, as educators, it is nearly impossible to step in the same river twice. We inherit children who may have had intense and fulfilling experiences in the previous grade - or not. In public education, we play the hand we are dealt. The kids who walk through our door on day one are the ones we are charged with molding into future biochemists and restaurant managers and mayors. When we are lucky we get lots of help from the parents of these short people, and that support generally translates into success for those involved. It is an awesome and powerful thing, this home-school collaboration thing. Then there are those who cannot, for one reason or another, make that kind of commitment. We still teach those kids too. In most cases, these are the students who will need the most time and attention. In many cases, these are the families who will complain bitterly about the way their children are being educated and insist they are just a phone call away from moving their child to another school where they will most certainly get the teacher or facilities or lunch they deserve. In most cases, the phone call doesn't get made, and that kid keeps coming to a school where he or she is at odds with the collision of their two worlds: home and school.
How can this work? When we are lucky, there is a magic moment when that student takes it upon themselves to shift their focus to becoming an active participant in the process, and suddenly the resistance to learning becomes a clear pathway to that goal: making it to the next grade.
And then we start all over again in a new room with a new teacher.
Or maybe that family has to move, and the search for a school where the magic of education can once again be found.
I'm not announcing that I have discovered a solution to the crisis that is American Public Education. Instead, I am saying that I understand that there is a problem. There are all kinds of possible ways to attack the issue: no homework, more homework, shorter school days, longer school days, charters, vouchers, technology, testing, no testing, and the ever-popular learn by doing. Sadly, while we try and figure this out, the stream keeps flowing. Children keep moving past us on our assembly line missing important pieces of their intellectual development that we have sacrificed in order to make sure that those basic building blocks are inserted: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. These have been referred to as "The Three R's," which given proper English spelling, may explain how we got off track in the first place.
Meanwhile, be patient, youth of America. We are bound to get this right. There are a lot of us out here working hard to make that happen. We are the ones in classrooms before the bell rings in the morning, and after it has stopped in the afternoon. We want it to work. We are teachers.

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