Thursday, August 18, 2011

School Supplies: What You May Have Missed

As the month of August speeds towards Labor Day weekend, schools across the country, from elementary to college, are opening their doors again, to give students from every kind of neighborhood another shot at learning something new.

In some states, there is already reason for some hope, even in the face of brutal budget and personnel cuts facing educators everywhere. Nebraska and Iowa both got their ACT test results back yesterday, and students from both states, on average, do better than kids in other states. Those scores are to be commended - but they're not the sole measure of the quality of education in each state, nor should they be.

Paul has taught on both the high school and college level, we each have family members who are or have been teachers, and each of us has taught certain subjects individually - what's commonly known as tutoring. More than many, we understand that school is about far more than just tests.

A growing number of Americans seem to be finally beginning to comprehend the difficulties facing administrators, school boards, teachers and students these days - including increasing acts of violence, by both students and teachers. Still, too many Americans fall back on the tired, old standby complaints when they talk about the problems in education. "It's those damn teachers unions," or "Public schools just can't compete these days," are arguments we all hear regularly, from across the country.

Sadly, the kind of comment we hear hear least, is a heartfelt "Thanks" to teachers and support staff.

When many of us went to school, the economics of the country were far different. Households where both parents worked were not the norm. Single-parent households were rare. Effective wages were much higher, manners and civility were much more the norm- and all of these things helped reduce what we expected schools to deal with at all levels.

For most of us, it's always been more than just reading, 'riting and  'rithmatic. These days, it's much, MUCH more. Now, it's not just reading - it's reading in multiple languages. Writing includes a healthy dose of technology - and often includes writing computer code, as well as "normal" languages. And arithmetic - math - is algebra and geometry, beginning in elementary school. Not to mention that the computer teacher may also double as the art teacher, and perhaps teaches english, to boot - if the kids are lucky. And don't forget world history, American history, and modern history all taught by the same person, with a couple of other subjects thrown in.

Most teachers are also coaches - or they're the faculty advisor (meaning 'coach by another name') for some other activity that used to be considered "extracurricular". If kids want to get beyond just high school, everything from shop to home ec, from football to theatre has become "extracurricular" these days.

This, of course, has teachers and administrators everywhere - in public and private schools alike -continuing to operate from smaller and smaller budgets. This increasingly means teachers have to work another job, on top of their chosen profession, to make ends meet for their families.

That says nothing for the paperwork and lesson plans most of them take home every day, as they always have.

The supplies that we ask that you bring to school this year, whether you're a student, parent, teacher, administrator - or legislator looking at education budgets - are simple.

Serious respect; significant patience; and a real understanding of what our teachers face every day in this economy, just to do their jobs.

No one goes into teaching these days for either the money or job security. Neither exists much anymore. If someone is there, teaching your children - or you - they're there because they've got a passion for it. As former teacher and cartoonist - and our editor-in-chief - Paul Fell has often said: "teaching just gets in your blood".

We doubt most Americans can say the same about their job.

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