Students are returning to school across the country. Some are beginning new levels of education for the first time. There are new teachers entering the classroom for the first time as well.
Parents have been running around getting their children school supplies and new school clothes. There is a certain excitement at the beginning of each new school year. For most, there is a renewed enthusiasm about what education can be.
A former student of mine could not find a teaching job on Long Island. He has a Masters degree in special education, and in social studies. He also has his coaching certificate in football. After a two-year search for educational employment, he and his fiance, who is also a certified high school social studies teacher, decided to relocate. They were both offered jobs in a large school district outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The district has two high schools. He teaches in one, and she in the other.
They have already started classes. He is also coaching football. Their passion for their new schools and their students is contagious. They both love their classes; although they admit they're still in the honeymoon phase of this new adventure.
However, they both made interesting comments about their students. KB teaches emotionally disturbed high school students. LM teaches mainstream students. Each teacher was impressed with their students self-discipline and respect. The atmosphere in both of their schools is exceptional.
They would love one day to come home and teach, but their new environment is so pro- teacher and pro-education, they are talking about staying for the long-term.
As I thought about their comments about their new schools and their new environment, I realized we need to be more attentive to our learning environments and the support of our teachers.
Our schools need to be safe, supportive environments that encourage the total development of all our students. There must be an atmosphere of respect on both sides of the desk and a level of accountability that holds teachers, administrators, parents, and students responsible for how they interact with each other.
Our teachers are the key to a positive educational experience. New York State teachers are among the best educated in the country. They need to be empowered to teach and shape the next generation of leaders, teachers, professionals and trades-people. They are not certified babysitters or school social workers who are expected to spend class time disciplining and counseling our children. Most schools have on campus counselors for students with special needs that are not academic. If they don't, they should!
Parents should be proactive in their child's education. That means they should support their children's teachers in the learning objectives that are established at the beginning of each new school year. They should set certain standards at home regarding study time and curfews. A parent cannot make his or her child learn or study. However, we can create an environment that is conducive to studying and learning.
The computer is a wonderful tool that should be used appropriately. It is not a toy. Its primary use should be to enhance one's learning experience, not one's social network. Facebook, My Space and other social networking entities should have a time and a place. They should not be the centerpiece of a student's life.
Schools should have some very clear, basic guidelines. There should be a basic dress code so that school campuses are not fashion shows. There should be a clear and enforceable policy on cell phone use and texting. IPods are another distraction that should be addressed. Schools that have open campuses should seriously revisit and rethink that policy. At best, it should be restricted to seniors with a B average and have written permission from their parents.
School administrators need to step up and set a positive and enthusiastic tone as the new school year begins. They should make it clear that they support their teachers unconditionally and want their schools to have positive energy that is contagious.
As the new school year begins, school administrators must be clear on a zero-tolerance for drug and alcohol use, violence, hate, bullying and intolerance. Should any of these circumstances emerge, they should be dealt with directness, honesty and clarity.
Our schools should be our national treasure, not a wasteland of human potential.