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Commentary: Spring break teacher musings

I always view spring break with both enthusiasm and dread. Enthusiasm for the break from the day-in and day-out challenges of school and dread because I cannot completely break away from the daily routines of the school year — the toughest routine being the daily wake-up call at 5 a.m. So while I do chores around the house and get the kids to various practices and events, school darts in and out of my consciousness.

So, in that spirit of short bursts of reflection about education, allow me to throw a few short thoughts to you to mull over:

Recently I’ve attended quite a few meetings with my colleagues about various initiatives that our district is rolling out over the next few years. When it comes time to get input from teachers about these initiatives, inevitably one of the charges is that the teachers do not feel that district personnel have a good feel for what happens in the classroom.

Therefore the initiative at issue is somehow misguided, or is not possible to implement. Teachers dismiss those not in the classroom as at best well-intentioned, or at worst having no clue. What I find interesting though, is attending some of these meetings with teachers are association officials who are also not in the classroom.

Some association reps have been out of the classroom for years. If district personnel don’t have a clue because they are not in the classroom, why would association reps? Doesn’t this all come down to issues of trust? Can we stop using the lazy argument that those who are not in the classroom should have no entre into practice and policy discussions and deal with the merits of the issue?

My daughter is in an uproar, (she’s twelve, pretty much everything is blown out of proportion) about her middle school’s proposal that the school day be extended. My daughter is a good student. She is at least proficient in all of her courses and she is able to take electives. In other words, she gets it. Not all students obtain academic proficiency in the same amount of time and with the same resources. Extending the school day has been proposed so that students can receive more academic assistance to get them where they need to be.

But what about students who are already where they need to be? Shouldn’t the school day be flexible to fit the needs of students who need assistance? Are we applying the old industrial model of treating all students with the same inputs, regardless of need? What if we use the proposed increase of resources to identify struggling students and then rush the necessary resources to them?

The recent debate over retention of third graders due to literacy struggles is a great place to apply the idea of more time — more time before they need to be retained! Why not use the summer to remediate 8th grade students who are struggling before they get to high school? Getting struggling incoming ninth graders into the school building, focused on literacy and numeracy skills gives students a hand-up before school starts. It also provides an early relationship to the building and building personnel for students who could use it. Let’s use any proposed extra time wisely.

Finally, I have advocated in many of my posts that teachers are professionals. Teachers need to view themselves in this manner, but so too does our greater society. Professionals are not “called” into their work like priests, rabbis or nuns. We are like lawyers, nurses and other professionals who need extensive training and who need to be held accountable. We have made strides in this area, but we still have work to do as is evident in this news item from The Progressive Magazine titled, What Would Jesus Pay?

Alabama state senator Shadrack McGill defends not raising teacher salaries in his state, reports MSNBC. “It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach,” said McGill. “And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do it. It’s the ability that God gave them.”

According to McGill, Lady Gaga is right, “I was born this way.”

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