Another school year has begun. It is serious business. Will this academic year be better than last year? As teachers, parents and students, what is our agenda for this year? What are our academic priorities?
For the teachers, "Why do we teach?" We don't come to teaching to punch clocks, for its' social opportunities or for the big bucks. Hopefully, most of us are drawn to teaching because of our inner passion for our students and our profound love for our subject matter!
Most of us who teach are compelled by our belief that connecting students with challenging ideas will bring about great things. Many of us are drawn to teaching because we want to make a difference in a young person's life. We believe, on a deeper level, that engaging in such meaningful work will be a course for great personal fulfillment.
What sustains the teacher in this life altering, challenging career path? It allows us to be part of making miracles happen and to be part of the on-going human transformation that takes place in so many classrooms on a daily basis. Sometimes these transformations are hidden to the non-teacher. They are often the little things that few people have the eyes to notice. For example, the first time a student understands a complicated idea or the slow progress, but progress, a student has with his or her writing. Or when a difficult student has a crack in his faade and shares a creative moment that is mind-boggling. Those are the moments that keep us going, along with so many other encounters along the way that humble us, compel us and inspire us to stay the course with our vital work within our community.
Teachers, as we begin the new year, we must "reclaim the fire" for those of us who are veterans and for the neophytes among us. We must ignite the fire! There is so much that is sacred about our work. What we do every day, for those who are committed to the process, there is so much to be reverenced and in awe of. Remember the joy and excitement that comes with a class well taught; that deep sense of wonder when you see a student make connections and begin to make sense of his or her world.
There is something indescribable and life giving when working with colleagues and parents on behalf of our children and creating an environment where learning is honored and students thrive and seem genuinely happy.
Teaching is a noble profession. Most of us are fortunate to have had at least one teacher who was a mentor, an example and a powerful role model who had a tremendous influence in helping to shape our future.
Unfortunately, we all know teachers who have betrayed this noble profession - those who have stayed on too long, those who fell into this important work by default not choice; those who ultimately hurt students rather than empower them.
Hopefully, the number of hurtful teachers who are infecting our learning environment are few and far between and the courageous teachers among us will overshadow them and have great influence on the students entrusted to our care.
Our schools must be repositioned as the heart and soul of every community. They must be the number one priority on every community's social agenda. Instead of cutting back programs, increasing class sizes and forcing school communities into austerity due to fiscal recklessness or mismanagement, we must be looking for new ways to revitalize and continually improve our academic programs, the quality of our teachers and our support staff.
Yes, there is much waste in many of our schools. One does not have to be a fiscal wiz to look at a summary school budget and immediately identify areas of waste that are not essential to providing our children with a quality education. Many of our private schools do better with so much less and they pay their teachers a fraction of what they deserve.
A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. Our teachers deserve to be well paid for what they do regarding our children. Many public school teachers are grossly underpaid and they go the distance and then some regarding our children's' education.
The problem is not our teachers and their salaries; it is more about how schools are being administered. It is about how school boards are paralyzing school district administrators from doing their jobs effectively.
It seems to me as a veteran teacher, school administrator and creator of a school board within the private school sector, that the primary role of a school board is to hold the school administration accountable, but not to micro-manage and interfere in the school's livelihood.
Parents need to take a more active role in school affairs, not to but in or interfere, but rather to add another element of accountability. As teachers and administrators, we need to hold parents more accountable. We all have very busy lives. That is not an excuse not to do the minimum and not to keep the lines of communication open.
If education is a gift and our children are our national treasure, then we should act accordingly. We must revive the partnership from yesteryear where school, parents, community and houses of worship worked collaboratively and together on behalf of our children.
We need to have the courage to create an education landscape that instills a moral compass within all students. This landscape should encourage respect, diversity and opportunity for every student no matter what his or her socio-economic circumstance might be.
As this new school year begins, we need to hold all of our children to educational accountability. Our schools are not high priced babysitting centers, but rather creative places where life-transforming work can take place. Hopefully, this year they are going to be places where a community of learners can have their imaginations ignited. Hopefully they are going to be places where creative teachers can feel unconditional support from parents as they help their students navigate through the crags and shoals of growing up." If not, our schools will become (if they are not already) tragic wastelands of human potential.
As members of the larger educational community, we must all work more collaboratively on the issues that unite us.
Our school communities must be vibrant with life and provide all students with the tools for success - humanly, academically and socially. We must strive to make our learning environments more human. They must be environments that inspire and invigorate rather than those that shackle and demean.