Public Education

You would expect someone who spent thirty-five years in public education to have something to say about the subject.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy essay on public education which I subsequently lost to one of those dreaded computer disasters.  Looking back on the disaster, I think it may have been a blessing in disguise: I get a second chance.

Some times folks complain that teachers only actually teach five or six hours a day.  Okay, but there is no time to daydream during those five or six hours.  Most jobs require eight hours of work, but most are not as intense as the five or six hours teachers teach.  On most jobs one can work and daydream.  Not true for teachers.  After twenty-five years in the classroom, I became a librarian.  I worked just as hard at that job as I did at teaching;  the difference was that I had time to daydream, a big difference.

Many people believe that teachers are members of unions.  Well, in some states but not in Texas.  Most teachers in Texas are members of teacher associations mainly so that they can get legal help if they need it.  Frankly, I don’t believe that public employees should have a right to union membership.

The public perception is that teachers are difficult to fire.  Not true.  If a teacher is not performing up to local or state standards, he or she can be dismissed with cause.  If the principal or other authorized administrator documents the shortcomings of a teacher, dismissal is not a problem.  The problem too often with dismissal is that the administrators don’t do the proper documentation.

Some believe that teachers are underpaid.  Well, what can I say about this?  Let’s just say if you become a teacher, you had better be a good manager of money.  We can not expect greater salaries until there is a significant shift in the public’s attitude toward education in general.  I’ve always believed that the main reason that teachers are paid so poorly is that most are women (nationally 74%).  This also explains why coaches and administrators, most of whom are men, are paid well by comparison.  If you’re motivated by money, find another profession. 

Are administrators worth their salaries?  A good superintendent or principal is worth his or her weight in gold.  During my years in public education, I only knew a handful who were worth even talking to let alone paying.  The problem is that too many of them are motivated to become administrators to avoid teaching or coaching or simply look at the jobs as better paydays.  In either case, not the kind of folks we should expect much from.

Are kids more difficult to deal with today?  Yeah, in many cases.  They just reflect a general lack of respect for education, a break down of the family unit, and a lowering of societal standards.  However, Beaver Cleaver does still exist.  When I began teaching in 1969, the world was different: Beaver Cleaver didn’t stand out in the crowd.

Another criticism of teachers is that they only work 9 months a year.  It’s actually a lot closer to 10 months now.  The last time I checked, teachers still eat 12 months of the year.  Those of you not wanting to pay teachers more should be thankful that teachers get two months off in the summer.  Many teachers would not be willing to do the job 12 months a year.  They need time to recharge their batteries.

Has teaching changed much?  Well, teaching is teaching.  The techniques teachers use are varied.  They really haven’t changed much since the beginning of time.  There are more audio-visual-computer whizbangs available which is good.  The textbook producers now actually provide workbooks and tests.  A good teacher is a good teacher is a good teacher regardless of resources.

Speaking of textbooks, when will the powers that be get rid of the hardcopy text and use something like the Kindle?  It would not be any more expensive and save a lot of locker space.

What about home schooling?  Fine with me.  What about privatizing public education?  Fine with me.

What about charter schools?  These are state sanctioned schools which have their own set of rules.  Good in theory, but it has resulted in a mixed bag of successes and failures.  I guess that’s the nature of the beast.

Is there too great an emphasis on athletics in public education?  In small schools, absolutely.  Too many of the personnel are involved in athletics.  The answer to the problem is quite simple: move athletics outside of the school day.  Use the coaches to teach academics and let them earn their coaching stipends outside of the school day.

What about the state testing of students?  It was a good idea in the beginning.  It’s still a good idea.  It forces educators to teach the subject matter required by the state.  Left to the individual school or teacher, holy crap, what a mess.  This is not to say that the testing program is perfect; it ain’t, but it’s better than not having a state standard.

Do we need longer days and more of them?  The days have gotten longer over the years.  This really doesn’t help anyone---teachers, students, or administrators.  It makes parents happy who view the school as their free baby sitter, and it makes it seem that we’re really trying hard, but there is only so much concentration one can do in a day, particularly if you’re ten years old.  As for the increasing length of the school year, give me a break.  This was a reaction to the Japanese school system.  I don’t really think the Japanese students are high achievers because of their longer school year, do you?  While we’re speaking of time spent on education, we need to drop the 12th grade.  The twelfth grade was added during the Depression because very few students went on to college, and there were few jobs for high school graduates.  On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve added kindergarten and pre-kindergarten.  Come on folks, we can save a great amount of money and at least set the seventeen year olds free on the world--college or work.  Even today, it’s possible now for a high school student to graduate in three years if he or she works at it.

As for the present curriculum, it tries to do too much.  It should do a few basic things well.  Reading, math, English, history, science, and civics are all that we really need to attempt to teach.  Home economics and agricultural programs have their place.  However, once a person can read, write, and have an understanding of math, all things are possible.

I became well aware when I taught that all parents think they are experts on public education.  However, most don’t have a clue.  Just because they spent twelve or more years sitting in a desk doesn’t mean that their perception was improved by the experience.  Most, unfortunately, still have a student’s view of schools.



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