...to say good-by. I have been on vacation for the past six weeks in a small town in the middle of the San Juan Islands (WA). I watched the local school district start the school year, noted as one teacher I had met retire, at the moment happy to not have to go back to the classroom. She said it was getting tiring and the paper work was increasing. She missed the "..old days." Perhaps that is the way of teachers getting older--we know when it is time to quit as I am doing now.
Many of you over the past years have written about your experiences, your hurts, your joys in the classroom. You've thanked me for thanking you for your services. Indeed, one of the great faults of this society is that we don't thank our teachers enough. Someday, someone will find a spot, a gene in our brain that when hearing a "thank you" will activate and push the body into doing more then we have done in the past. Sort of a verbal energy boost.
There are many reasons that have prompted me to bring this blog to a conclusion, although I doubt seriously if the subject of teaching and teachers will ever be exhausted. I find in the past year that my memory is slowly failing--things about teaching that I knew so well some years back have eluded me, enough so that I have had to look some items up in old textbooks or in the ways of the young, google the phrase. It is extremely frustrating to know what it is you want to say but can't think of the word or concept that you once knew so well. I sit here in front of my computer with closed eyes as if lowered eye lids will assist the brain in retrieving the word that I'm looking for, thinking of, or desperately wanting. That act itself makes me feel old.....and I don't want to feel old. I thought about perhaps going back to school to take a class (they have classes for seniors) like a dear friend of mine is doing but I'm scared that I will not remember essential items in the learning process. I know about teachers and teaching but I worry about learning. Ironic, isn't it. One good thing about taking a class for seniors is that I could get an Apple Education Discount on my next computer--except I don't need one at the moment.
While the past is slow in recovery I am also concerned about my brain activity for the future. Six months ago I bought for my wife and me iPhones and iPads so that we might coordinate our calendars, use the note taking app as well as the reminder apps.....this latter one I thought would be crucial. It would be if I could remember to look at it. However a disturbing fact is that it takes brain activity to actually use these devices. While Apple (and Microsoft) say their software programs are intuitive I am given to believe that the 'intuition' is age related. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE IS NO BACK BUTTON?" And it is demeaning to have a young stranger look over your shoulder and say "just press the menu bar at the left. Damn, I feel old.
But slower and reluctant brain power isn't the only characteristics that have prompted me to hang up my bloggers hat, it is the general level of society's view of teachers and teaching that is bothering me. I am despondent beyond belief on how many people are criticizing teachers for doing a poor job. A child misbehaves and a note is sent home to the parents to inform and the parent(s) come and criticize the teacher for his/her behavior. "If you did you job right my kid would not misbehave--it's your fault." Perhaps we teachers ought to start saying, "if you did your job correctly as parents we could do a better job as teachers." No, that's not the way to go. Still the parent/teacher relationship has deteriorated much over the past few years. I wonder why?
I have an acquaintance who delights in telling me that if we would just get rid of the bad teachers, education would improve immensely. And I keep asking him to describe what is a 'bad' teacher. His answer generally revolves around the point that if I have to ask then i don't belong in education. I still don't know what a poor or 'bad' teacher is.
I remember doing student teaching supervision at an elementary school that I liked very much however, it did have one teacher that i though was not up to par with the rest of the staff. A male teacher in the fourth grade that was pedantic, dictatorial , and in my estimation, boring. But the principal and I went over the test scores and his class scored equally as well as the other two fourth grades and in some cases scored a bit higher. The principal was teaching me something important--that this teacher provided certain kids with "doing it over and over until you get it right" methodology which these kids needed. Once they got it right they could go on--success breeds success. That success was what motivated those children, not exciting teaching. So what is a poor teacher--what do they look like?
Which brings me to another point. In this state we are going to vote on whether this state should allow charter schools. In the past I've always decided on educational issues by asking myself, will this help kids? Will it hurt them? For a while I felt that that charter schools was a moot issue--it didn't hurt and could actually help some kids. But recently Stanford University did a study where they found that there is little or no difference by and large between regular public schools and the charter schools....except that the charter schools had more parent involvement. But the study also pointed out one other difference--that in many cases of charter schools it limited the students who could be enrolled. Charter schools appear to favor the more upper class or richer student. Poorer students got left out. I can hear John Dewey tossing in his grave right now. So I am against charter schools.
I suspect if i were to start a charter school in Bellevue (WA) I would have overwhelming success for that city has an abundance of motivated students and parents. It is the only city in this state that has a number of its high schools listed in the top 100 high schools in the United States.
Get rid of poor kids, hungry kids, dirty kids, scared kids, tired kids who don't know what possibility is possible and I would suspect that teaching students is fairly easy--just get out of their way. What I am reading (in blogs, educational journals, op-ed pieces) is that the rich folk are sending their kids to private schools at an increasing rate in spite of the increasing costs. Want your kids to do well--send them to a private school. Want your kid in an Ivy league school? Send them to Lakeside School in Seattle (Paul Allen and Bill Gates are alumni).
I am reading a book (on my Kindle and iPad) titled, "Some of My Best Friends are Black. The Strange Story of Integration in America. By Tanner Colby. It is a disturbing book about how integration has been difficult in the schools even after the civil rights act of congress. Developers design developments that the whites can afford and have white schools. They move school and district boundaries so that in essence we have a private school. A sad story.
But my point is that public schools are at a crossroad in our society. Historically public schools have been for every child, every young adult. I wonder if this will continue to be. "Cut taxes, get rid of the teacher unions, and in a few cases, eliminate certified teachers. Anyone who has had children can teach!"
So this is what I see in the future. More private schools. City schools having problems with costs of books, buses, heating and maintenance. Strangely enough I see rural schools perhaps doing a better job of teaching our young. One local suburban/rural school district has decreed that there will be no textbooks in the future except on iPads (forget brand for the moment) which will be required of every student. I will enjoy watching this development.
But one thing that I see is the continuation that teachers will continue to teach. There is a study out that I haven't see, only read about it, that suggest that our political bent is determined by our genes, i.e., you will be a conservative or a progressive because of your genes. Interesting thought. Based loosely on that, I suggest that there will be teachers teaching because they have to teach. This has been one of my tenets from the beginning of this blog and over the years. There are teachers in the schools who are there because they have to teach. That is what they want to do with their lives. Whether they teach in a public school, a private school, in industry or the military, they will go into teaching like salmon heading up their own river and stream. They have to do it.
The moral of teachers if I sense the mood correctly, is low. What turns them on is the success of their students. But they are the ones who are defining success...like "Susan read her first story today", or "The kids are beginning to listen--the band played in tune today." What teachers don't want is more paper work and more testing. Waste of time.
While I said that the public school is at a crossroad the epic point of that crossroads has to the curriculum. What to teach? What to teach? We have too many older citizens who say we have to teach patriotism. "In my day...." Others are demanding more math and science. But which math and science? How do we teach literature to kids who do not speak the language? And how or should we teach other languages? My biases says we need more music and art--it helps the brain. Should our schools have libraries? My iPad holds over a thousand books. The curriculum is a major problem facing the schools. Which knowledge is of most worth?
Some philosopher (I can't remember which one) once said that we need to live in the question, not the answer. What questions do we need to ask about our teachers and teaching? How should we train (educate?) teachers? But there are millions of questions that need to asked. I've only written about the few....
To the teachers who have read this blog from time to time and have commented with criticism and/or praise, I thank you for your services. You have taught me well. To those who are just interested in our teachers and have commented about what they have done for you, thanks for being active in understanding the problems of education. You are important to the success of our society.
To all of you, I wish you well, health and happiness--along with success!