Friday, February 10, 2006
In Praise of Determined, but Weary Teachers
Time out for a word of clear and unqualified praise for public school teachers in America, especially those who attempt to instruct in urban areas like Dallas.
Teachers don't get a fair shake in our society.
And frankly, I've had enough of it.
For the sake of full disclosure I need to say that both of my daughters are public school teachers.
But I would be writing this if they were truck drivers or lawyers!
Before the last school board election here in Dallas, a bright young candidate dropped in to visit and to get my perspective on the public schools.
"What is the biggest challenge facing our schools?" he asked.
"That is a simple one," I remember replying. "Poverty" was my one-word answer.
The look on his face was incredulous.
"Yes, poverty is a problem, no doubt," he said, "but what about education? I mean the school system can't fix poverty!"
I went on to tell him that, while I agreed that the schools can't "fix" poverty singlehandedly, until school districts and communities faced the realities of poverty, public education would remain locked up in a frustrating, organizational stall.
When children live in poverty, especially the deep, generational variety, learning and instruction are nearly impossible.
When our little ones arrive at school hungry, sleepy, emotionally troubled, and generally stressed to their limits, very little learning is possible.
Teachers can't be blamed for poor student performance given these conditions.
I know not all teachers are up to speed in talent, education or motivation. This has always been true of a few teachers. But, teachers aren't our problem.
Social and community reality--these are our problems.
Tack on parental irresponsibility, the absence of any expectation of discipline or rigor, parental abandonment, the crumbling nature of the American family and overloaded, bureaucratic administrative drag in education leadership at every level, and your begin to round out the picture facing our teachers and their students every morning.
Poverty exacerbates each of these other social challenges.
Teaching to a standardized test will not get the job done.
If we really and truly want to see our children achieve again, a comprehensive, holistic approach is required.
That will mean a national campaign to reduce poverty and to limit its current, pervasive impact on our children. Included must be adequate funding for decent housing, accessible health and dental care for everyone, employment skill improvement, parental support, mental health services, livable wages, code enforcement, economic development and education, both public and secondary.
Those charged with school administration must be willing to go back to a zero-based evaluation of every decision to make sure that students are on the receiving end of every strategy, tactic and resource allocated and expended.
What we need is a community commitment to our children and to their families.
Everyone must step up--churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; city, county, state and federal public funds; individual, corporate, foundation philanthropy; and a concerted, national media and public relations campaign that will not allow us to forget.
Everyone must expect more. That means all of us must challenge elected officials to care, really care. If they don't, then we need to act to find and to elect those who do as replacements.
Until we get on with this or something mighty near like it, let's commit to give our teachers a break!
Unless you've been there, you don't have a clue how demanding and impossible their jobs can be.