Have our schools become wastelands of human potential and has our teaching profession become a group of unskilled educated babysitters? Many parents, fellow educators, and even students would say yes! That is a very sad commentary on our American educational system.
For most of us, our schools have become the center and power structure within many of our small communities. In our culture, our teachers probably spend more time with our children than most of our parents.
Most of the young people I know love going to school but don t love going to class. School is probably the only place that many at risk students and other students for that matter feel loved and accepted. For some people, their teachers are the only adults with which they feel a positive life-giving connection.
Unfortunately, as our culture has radically changed and our society has been transformed for better or for worse, by modern technology, our schools have been stuck in a factory model of the industrial age. As the late Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers pointed out, our students are in classrooms that look like classrooms did a century ago.
Teachers promotion and salary policies are based on equally outdated conceptions of K-12 education. In the factory model of education, teachers are too often treated like interchangeable parts, who keep the school assembly-line moving.
Educational reform is long overdue. Every president from John Kennedy to President Obama has advocated for educational reform. Each administration has provided cosmetic change for a system that has been severely broken for more than three decades. Time will tell what President Obama will be able to achieve.
Our present system of education is in need of radical surgery. The way we train future teachers needs a major overhaul. How we evaluate and promote teachers needs to go back to ground zero. School boards should stop tinkering with academic systems. Their meddling only fuels the dysfunction.
Superintendents need to be visionaries with the courage to address the real issues that challenge both our students and our teachers. They need to create learning environments that empower every student to succeed and reach his or her full potential, intellectually, emotionally and humanly. We must stop setting our students and our teachers for that matter up for failure.
Teaching should be one of the nation s most revered professions. An excellent teacher should be worth his/her weight in gold. They should be well compensated, justly evaluated and be given ongoing superior professional development opportunities so that they can continue to educate our children with superior quality and extraordinary competence.
Yet, teachers today are not given the respect they deserve. Our profession is not treated as a profession on par with other highly skilled professionals. Why? Some of that answer is due to our own lack of professional development, poorly monitored tenure and lack of educational accountability.
However, the major reason is that our system of education is broken beyond repair. It needs a total overhaul from the basement up. The curriculum in every major discipline needs more than fine-tuning. It is totally out of step with the student of today. We must face that the student of today is radically different than the student starting out in our system 30 years ago.
Our classrooms are genuinely a melting pot of every race, ethnicity, creed, language, economic group, religion and sexual orientation. One reading program no longer fits all. New approaches to written language, science, math and reading must begin now!
Teachers must be trained differently to work with diverse students from every socioeconomic background. New teachers need to be mentored by the best that we have, with the best practices that work with every kind of student.
The way we evaluate an effective teacher/administrator, must be connected to academic success in our local school districts. If more than 95% of the district s teachers are rated as good and/or superior, where chronically students are underperforming year after year, there s something radically wrong with that system.
The reality of life is that we have to live with the effects of bad teachers and ineffective administrators at every level. But we should not get stuck there. We need to change how we do the business of education.
Our schools have to be safe, healthy places to learn and to work. Students need to be affirmed and encouraged not consistently demeaned and put down. In order to teach, teachers also need to be affirmed, respected and encouraged by their administrators and parents!
Discipline is not a dirty word. Schools must reclaim a healthy approach to discipline, one that supports a life giving environment. Out-of-control students need to be dealt with effectively. Out of school suspension is not the answer. In many ways, it only fuels the problem. It just moves the conflict, temporarily off campus.
Schools must more effectively address the growing number of students who are experimenting with illegal drugs and the illegal use of alcohol, both on and off campus. A significant number of high school students are going into residential treatment centers to deal with their potential addictions. When they return home, they come back to the very environments that precipitated their out-of-control use of illegal drugs and their illegal use of alcohol. For some students battling addiction, their school campus is where it all began.
What can we do differently to keep our school campuses drug and alcohol free? What can we do more effectively to support our students in their early recovery as they return to campus? We must address these concerns or lose some tremendous potential for the future.
Too many of our students are becoming victims of our broken system. How many more have to graduate as functional illiterates before we say enough? I have had the privilege of teaching in our public educational system on the college level for more than 29 years. I am a member in good standing of the NYSUT and its national affiliates. I have seen firsthand what talented competent educators can do with students, with varying abilities. I ve also seen the creative genius of some school administrators who think outside the broken box.
It is time to transform our wasteland of human potential into an oasis of untapped potential and possibility!
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