Monday, August 17, 2009

Gee Wally, it's time to go to school!

Well, it's August 17th and the work year has officially started for the 09-10 school year. I remember a time when the start of the year was a huge rush. The thought of starting anew, sort of a rebirth if you will.
Education is very different from "jobs" that require a great deal of stamina, doing the same tasks day after day. In education everything is broken into small pieces, more like a McNugget than a bucket of the Colonels best! When I was an employee of the City of Beaumont I went to work each day with the same objective but there were never two days that presented the same way, ever! There was always the element of excitement when you were required to use the job skills taught or learned through experience. There was something about knowing that you had an advantage and ultimately would win out that made the whole experience new even though you had executed the same task a hundred times before. The setting, the characters and the attitudes were almost never the same. Success was measured by the number of encounters with the public and the disposition of said encounters. Oddly though the objective was to reduce the number of like encounters thereby demonstrating your effectiveness as an agent of the city.
In education, nothing is certain excepting only "change". For six weeks you pursue a set of objectives in the curriculum using strategies related to your area of expertise. You teach and evaluate then re-teach and evaluate. Each objective must be mastered at the prescribed level by those in your charge. There are many learning characteristics to consider, such as the style (auditory, visual, tactile kinesthetic), right brained, left brained, learning disabled, gifted, broken home, happy home, single parent, extended family, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, did they have breakfast this morning, did they sleep in a bed within some type of shelter, are they familiar with the juvenile justice system, are they bullied by other students, are they on good terms with their girl/boyfriend, do they move several times a year attending several different schools or are the from a wealthy but dysfunctional family, ect., ect. Success under these circumstances is simply measured by "a sufficient number of students performing at a prescribed level of mastery, demonstrating said mastery on a testing instrument put together by bureaucrats who in many cases have never taught a day.
Granted you have anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes, every other day to detect deficiencies, produce alternative strategies, reteach and assess to insure successful outcomes and I know this sounds petty, but in many cases there is not enough time to accomplish your goals. I must be fair as not to present a totally biased scenario. There are some areas of curriculum that have more time than I have described here. A chosen few see their students every day for 75 to 90 minutes. What difference could it possibly make? It depends on how you look at it. With 75 minute classes meeting every other day over a two week period you see each student 6.25 hours. Where students attend 75 minutes every day 12.5 hours of contact can be achieved. Calculating the same using a 90 minute class schedule the figures are 7.5 hours vs 15 hours. To put it another way, in a six week grading period your single block classes meet 15 times vs 30 for the double blocked classes. Of course this refers to the number of times a class meets. If a student is absent, especially the day before or following a holiday, you may only see him or her once in a 7 day period. If a student is assigned discipline out of your classroom, well, it could be weeks between contact.
All of this sounds like an evil plan to steal the farmers homestead, booting him out and claiming all of the oil and mineral rights, distributing the spoils to greedy CEO's as bonuses to insure that the haves continue to have and the have not continue to have not! I'm sorry, it is far more complicated than that. Our system of education, as maligned as it is, is the only system in the world that guarantees a free education to ALL! We do this knowing that we have limited financial resources, and a shrinking pool of young people with a desire to take on such a difficult task, for little pay, much criticism, and near impossible odds.
Every core (academic) subject, ideally, should be double blocked. To do so would require more money for additional teachers and more space. You may be asking yourself "why are any of the subjects double blocked"? The answer is simple and requires only two words; State Accountability. Under fire because our educational system appears to pale when compared to countries such as Japan our government think tanks puke new laws designed to raise our standing in a world where we stand alone in offering a chance to every child. Many other countries provide primary education to the masses with only the brightest being accepted into their secondary or university prep schools. When only your brightest students are tested in algebra, you should look very good. The pressure to show continued improvement as demonstrated by higher scores on "State Assessments", closing the gap between all ethnic groups as well as the economically disadvantaged, has brought about a plethora of educational programs that change almost yearly. Teachers and administrators are the targets of critics who point to our system and describe it as broken, unsuccessful, and in need of reform. The fact that so many of our schools have been able to achieve incredible results speaks volumes of the hard work, dedication and the sense of pride you can only find within the walls of the public school system in the United States of America.
Yes, at one time, the beginning of a new school year was invigorating even exciting. As I look back over the past 30+ years I am proud to have worked with so many fine people who have such selfless attitudes, who are making a difference in the lives of young people and I even feel a little pride in the small successes I have been blessed to accomplish.
One week from tomorrow students, tomorrows leaders, will begin to walk through the doors of schools in my district. Each one with their own hopes and dreams, some yet to realize that they can not only have hopes and dreams but they can attain their highest aspirations. This year, perhaps my last, I have a great opportunity before me. I have the opportunity to not only see the potential future before us but an opportunity to touch that future the way only a teacher can.
I am excited about the year. I am excited about what may be. I am humbled by such a daunting responsibility.


  1. Wow. Good post, dad. Have you heard back from Round Rock?

  2. You should be an inspirational speaker! Or write a book!