Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Van Gogh? or How I see this mess.
I'm standing here in the town where Van Gogh spent a lot of his time, to honor the famous painter that did not get much respect in his life time. I'm standing to honor the man and to ponder about our values, how we show what we value, and how we promote the same across generations. This week in the States, our President is talking about values too.
WE value our children and their education..
Yesterday, President Obama spoke about getting rid of poor teachers and reward the good ones. I couldn't agree with him more.
I have been a teacher and an administrator for decades, developing programs, hiring and training personnel, balancing all the services necessary to support education.
Three people in my immediate family are teachers, the day-to-day variety, young adults who spend their own cash so that the work they do is supported at the desk level, every desk, every classroom they are responsible for. Their time, even their leisure time, is all about providing activities and lessons that are creative, challenging and highly supportive. Their work goes beyond any slogan. When we meet, all we talk about is schooling. My husband, who has spent some time in the classroom, understands these obsessions, but still feels left out. Teachers do not have hobbies that do not relate to their job. Taking a vacation and providing support materials for their lesson are one and the same. We have a family obligation to support our children who are teachers.
All of their discretionary cash supports their classrooms.
President Obama is starting at the political end, not at the functional beginning. During his campaign, he spoke about pre-school education. That's a perfect beginning. A child is ready to absorb social skills, concepts and habits that will prepare him for the formal reading and writing lessons. At this point, the entire family can be engaged and trained. Even second language learners can get a leg up at this point. In many big cities in America, there could be more than one hundred different languages spoken in schools.
But President Obama started the conversation with a challenge to the unions. That was wrong. We are not adversaries. Yet, the position the President is taking will pit unions against administration and against the very government that is trying to support their efforts.
Unions need to deliver and promote quality practices, as in the case of Medical Associations, or Contractors Board. They need to police and maintain high standards of professionalism. Many times they are busy protecting staff that is marginal at best, staff not willing to become qualified, busy maintaining the status quo. We need to bring them in the conversation; we need to engage them in solving the problem. Our interests are the same.
Teacher quality will improve when the budget is prepared at each desk, each classroom, with specialized materials, distinctive tools as necessary for best practices to be successful. In a language class, a television is a basic tool, cd's and games and access to language manipulation devices, such as tape recorders and books on tape should not be extras for schools in wealthy districts; They should be available everywhere. We have never asked the teachers what they needed to do the best job. We have crowded classrooms, buildings that lack adequate heating and ventilation; textbooks that go back a few years, and not enough of them for children to have one text at home, and one at school to avoid carrying such heavy items in backpacks that are already burdened.
We are not even talking about paying for time to work together to assess, monitor and build specialized lessons. We are not talking about services that are so necessary as counseling, trama and social adjustment, as well as learning difficulties. We are not talking about paying teachers extra if they volunteer in hazardous neighborhoods. These needs are not even on my list yet.
I worked in Los Angeles. Not every school is in distressed areas; but many are. Teachers in these areas do not survive more than a couple of years. I have a son who has worked in one of these schools for fifteen years; and the fight to survive goes on.
Next time, I'll talk about the elements necessary to improve the big system.