Public schools all across America are failing on all fronts. Every year new calls come from all angles to change the system. Unfortunately, most voices focus on the effects rather than the causes of the shortcomings. This series of discussions will explore realistic and honest approaches to actually fixing the American public school system. Everything will be on the table; sacred cows will be slaughtered and served with slaw. Frankly, our children deserve no less.
Taking the Responsibility
The first to arrive. The last to leave. We are those who shoulder the most responsibility yet receive the least credit. Let’s not even speak on the pay. Cyclically, we face the usual flurry of criticisms and budget cuts, but the next few years look grim. Across America, states are in crisis mode. In many districts, funding will be slashed for educators and the children they serve. This will result in fewer teachers with fewer classrooms jammed with more students. What’s more, every organization addressing the needs of educators and students have come under fire. From the naked business-greed driven calls to disband teacher’s unions, to the insane and irresponsible rants aimed at abolishing the Department of Education, teachers today have very few allies. Yet within chaos lies hope. In this time of turmoil, we teachers can turn the tide. Here’s how.
Like anything else, we must begin by removing anyone not ready for the 21-century classroom. Teaching becomes a personal thing really quick. Most start out passionate, and even as their enthusiasm wanes they tend to take pride in doing their job right. On the other hand, some teachers are terrible. A minority of instructors actually don’t care about their students or their jobs. A small number are simply not cut out for K-12 instruction. There is no shame in this; teaching is hard work. I personally think we do a job similar to firefighters, sans the constant threat of severe injury or death (some teachers do have to worry about these as well…) Who else volunteers to go into and control a room with thirty screaming kids? Firefighters depend on each other for their very lives; they can’t afford a weak link that may get them killed. This is how we should look at our fellow instructors. Is this teacher performing to his or her potential, or are they just coasting by? Our kids don’t have the luxury to “coast”. Somehow we need to clean house, then impose new stringent standards and produce the large salary increase required to attract and retain quality teachers.
On the positive side, we need to adopt a much more communal relationship amongst peers. We must stop looking at education as a competition, despite the catchy and questionable euphemisms from the Department of Education. We are in different classrooms, but we are in the same building. We may be in different buildings, yet we are in the same state. All states sit together on one planet; we rise or fall together. This is why it is imperative to collaborate more. High school teachers need to forge links with the middle and elementary campuses that feed into them. Today’s sullen teenager was yesterday’s happy grade schooler. If we can follow their progression as a singular journey as opposed to fragmented chunks, we will not only be able to reduce dropouts but we will fundamentally change the way students view education in general. Remember: We have the most important job outside of parenting on Earth. We dedicate our lives and energy for a better future. I will leave you with this: We don’t teach because we can’t do, we teach because we can do it better than them.
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