Friday, March 16, 2018

Education, Teachers, Shootings

By Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, March 13, 2018

Sometimes you come upon the written or spoken word and you know not from whose lips it came.  This is one of those times when I wish I knew who the author was and how to contact him to thank him for his timely and very pointed comments that follow: 

Dear Students,

I know you. I am a retired teacher of 24 years. I have taught you as 7th graders all the way through 12th grade. This is not a tweet or a text. It’s called a letter; lengthy and substantial. Do you really want to make a difference? Are you sincere about making your schools safe? Don’t walk out, read this instead. Walking out of school is easy compared to what this letter will challenge you to do.

First of all, put down your stupid phone. Look around you at your classmates. Do you see the kid over in the corner, alone? He could likely be our next shooter. He needs a friend. He needs you. Go and talk to him, befriend him. Chances are, he won’t be easy to like, but it’s mainly because no one has tried to like him. Ask him about him. Get to know him. He’s just like you in that respect; he wants someone to recognize him as a fellow human being but few people have ever given him the chance. You can.

Next, see that kid eating lunch all alone? He could likely be our next shooter. Invite him to eat lunch with you. Introduce him into your fold of friends. You’ll most likely catch a lot of flak from the friends you eat with because they don’t want him upsetting the balance of their social order. After all, who you hang out with is critical to your status, is it not? If status is important to you, don’t you think it’s important to him also? The only difference being that he has no status because generally, shooters have no friends. Are you serious about wanting to make your school safe? Invite him to your lunch table and challenge your friends to do something meaningful with thirty minutes of their lives each day.

Lastly, are you completely frustrated by that kid who always disrupts your class and is consistently sent to the principal’s office? He could likely be our next shooter. Do you know why he causes so much trouble? He initiates disruption because that’s the only thing he does that gets him attention, and even bad attention is better than the no attention he receives from you and your classmates. You secretly wish he would get kicked out of school or sent to the alternative disciplinary school so that he wouldn’t disrupt your classes anymore (and) that somehow, he would just disappear. Guess what? He already feels invisible in a school of thousands of classmates, you included. So, before he acts out in your next class, why don’t you tell him you’d be willing to help him with the assignment that was just given? Or why don’t you ask him to join your study group? If you really want to blow his mind, ask him for help on the assignment. He’s never been asked that. Ever.

If you’ve read this far, you probably really do care about the safety of your school. Don’t trust that walking out of school will bring an answer. Gun control or more laws is not, and will not be the answer. You are the answer. Your greeting, your smile, your gentle human touch is the only thing that can change the world of a desperate classmate who may be contemplating something as horrendous as a school shooting. Look past yourself and look past your phone and look into the eyes of a student who no one else sees. Meet the gaze of a fellow human being desperate to make contact with anyone, even just one person; YOU. If you really feel the need to walk, walk toward that person. Your new friendship can relieve the heartache of one person and in doing so; possibly prevent the unjustifiable heartache of hundreds of lives in the future. I know you. I trust you. You are the answer.

And teachers, my fellow guardians of our youth, I know you too. I know the desire of wanting to make a difference in a young person’s life. I know the thrill of stepping in front of a classroom of students but simultaneously intimidated by the trust bestowed upon you. I also know the crushing, sometimes unbearable responsibility that your shoulders are asked to carry. But that’s why you got into teaching, because you have big shoulders; and a big heart. You’re overworked (I would add underpaid, but you didn’t get into teaching for the pay, so it needn’t be said), underappreciated and exhausted. May I add one more item to that list? You’re also a miracle waiting to happen in the life of your worst student. He could likely be our next shooter. The next time (and there’s always a next time) he’s ready to wreak havoc in your classroom, I challenge you to pull him aside and ask him if he’s ok, if there is something bothering him and is there anything you can do to help? Your genuine concern for him may be just the miracle he’s looking for. The miracle we’re all looking for. I know you. I trust you. You are the answer.

A former teacher who is as heartbroken as you and trusting you not to walk out on the real answer,

David (yes, teachers really do have first names) Blair

I read the above letter at the same time I read several posts on Facebook that were very unkind towards teachers and our educational system.  I felt a need to first recognize the above letter as perfectly identifying the problem within our schools when it comes to ignoring students with problems.  Here are my thoughts on the subject of teachers and education.

I have heard all of the arguments regarding teacher’s salaries.  Some of those opinions are just that, opinions, some are actually based upon facts, training and education.  I believe our teachers are underpaid for the work they perform and more importantly for the results we parents expect them to produce.  Nothing will ever change my mind on that premise because it is true.

To be a teacher in most states, at least in the public school system, you must have a college degree.  If a teacher did not get a scholarship to attend college, the cost of the degree is entirely the responsibility of the teacher or the future teacher’s parents.  Yes some teachers receive scholarships, full or partial, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Few teachers I know work an 8 hour day.  Most if not all work MORE than 8 hour days and work during their so-called lunch time as well.  But “people” say they get their summers off.  That is true, they do but they do it WITHOUT PAY unless they arrange to have their pay spread out over an entire year meaning they receive less during the actual school year but do receive compensation over the summer.  The question becomes what do teachers do during the summer months?  A lot of people think they are being paid and doing nothing related to teaching school. The good teachers are expanding their professional abilities by attending classes, workshops, seminars almost always at THEIR own expense with no additional compensation from their school boards.  If you happen to do that for your job, good for you; most do not.

If a teacher obtains a Masters Degree or a Doctorial Degree they usually do so at THEIR own expense.  School Boards typically include an increase in base pay for teachers obtaining such advanced degrees but they do not differentiate between good teachers, mediocre teachers and bad teachers when it comes to pay as they are all on the same pay schedule rather than a compensation system that recognizes exceptional teachers.  One size does not fit all and that is ever so true when it comes to teachers.  As a student, do you remember the differences between the teachers you had while in school?  I do.  Some were great; others not so much.  In fact some where only there to collect a pay check.  Others were there to see that I received the best education possible.  Yet both teachers were paid the same and it was administratively almost impossible to fire teachers much like it is for any government worker.  The inefficient are just “carried” until something changes.

While on the subject of education, have you ever wondered how a student could reach the higher levels of High School and still cannot read?  The answer is simple.  The student was a problem like the ones identified in the above letter.  Instead of FIXING THE PROBLEM by holding the student back, the student is advanced to the next grade.  Why does this happen?  Teachers ARE evaluated on the success of their students.  Holding a student back regardless of the student’s ability to advance or not, is an adverse reflection on the teachers evaluation.  No teacher wants that so instead of having a student repeat a grade, they are literally kicked down the road like a rusty old soup can for the next teacher to deal with.  Meanwhile the student’s self-esteem is in the toilet along with his or her future.
NOW FOR THE FACTS.  Our school system is broken if you believe American students and the country should have the best education available on the planet.  The facts prove that this is simply not true.  Think about the direction of our schools when you consider all the political correctness and even political indoctrination that currently exists in most of our schools.  Think about the movement towards having no losers; everyone gets a trophy. 

In “real life” everyone does NOT get a trophy and to be teaching students that they should not worry about doing well in school because they will get a trophy anyway is just boneheaded thinking and teaching.  You either win or you lose; it is that simple.  Can you name the Indianapolis 500 Driver who came in second in the 2005 race?  How about the 2017 race?  Doubt it.  There was only one winner of the race.  It is possible to create win-win situations in business and life but when the attitude exists that everyone gets a trophy, you can forget the win-win situations.  It will almost always turn out that one person wins and everyone else loses.

Look at the statistics for yourself and you decide where America stands in relationship to students from around the world.  If you don’t think this is alarming, I would seriously refrain from operating any heavy machinery for the rest of your life.  These numbers are very disturbing but you decide:

Last comment, I promise.  Let’s assume you are a parent and have 3 school age children.  You want the best education for your children, right?  Of course you would; dumb question.  But in our present school system, government bureaucrats have decided which schools your children MUST attend because of the physical location of the home in which you live is located.  It doesn’t matter to the government whether the school is producing great educational results or not, that is the school you must send your children to. 

You can always choose a private school(s) but let’s be honest.  You pay taxes and tax money is used to fund the public school systems throughout America.  If you choose to send your child or children to a private school(s), you are paying for TWO SCHOOLS, the public one through taxes, the private one through your tuition costs.  How does anyone believe that to be fair?  More importantly, if suddenly all the private schools were to be closed and those students were sent to public schools, the public school systems would be overwhelmed and become more dysfunctional than they already are.
The solution is called School Choice meaning parents would have the right to choose the school for their children to attend.  This would force more emphasis to be placed on failing schools to bring their levels up to more acceptable standards; imagine that, competition actually works.  All schools would no longer receive participation trophies for merely opening their doors – they would have to prove their worth or be shut down and is that not what happens throughout the business communities of the world and life itself?  You fail; you close your doors and then start over.

Given all of the turmoil in our educational systems around the country, think about the above letter and what is expected and what was expected of our teachers in both teaching our children and protecting them from incidents so deplorable as the shooting in Florida.  We are asking a great deal from our teachers and compensate them as if we don’t care.  We care, don’t we?  Somehow I don’t think so.

I can think of no profession so vital to the future of America and the world than the teaching profession.  Isn’t it time we learn to appreciate what we have and treat them accordingly?  If we chose not to, Home Schooling will soon become even more popular than it already is.  Maybe that is not a bad thing.  Maybe that is what would be called the natural progression of things.  When you consider the amount of money we taxpayers pay to the Federal Government that goes just to the Department of Education not to the schools, it is mindboggling especially when you discover that the Department of Education IS NOT one of the delineated responsibilities of the Federal Government.  Imagine that.  We all would be better off giving that money to our local communities to fund education rather than paying huge salaries of bureaucrats in Washington.  Think about that for a moment.


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