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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.

14 comments:

Lola said...

Whew, Rosaria. What kind of an education is in store for my little boy? Italy and its scholastic system, as I may have mentioned earlier, is undergoing a Neanderthal moment. The picture you paint of the US is no prettier.
Che si deve fare per questi piccoli uomini che crescono?

Chairman Bill said...

Our government in the UK is talking of taking people off the streets and turning them into teachers within 6 months!

lakeviewer said...

Oh no! God save us.

Renee said...

Rosaria this is very interesting to me.

Canada is officially a bilingual country and we have a choice where we want to send our kids to school. English, French, French Immersion, English Immersion, and in some areas where I live German Immersion or Ukrainian Immersion. (High population of Ukrainians in Manitoba).

Anyway, my three children went to French Immersion and so are now bilingual. It starts here in kindergarten.

I think education in Canada is different from the states, but I don't know enough of it to be sure. What do teachers get paid there? Here they have to have 5 years of university to be a teacher now. What is it there?

My oldest daugher Angelique and my son Nathan are both teachers. They teach middle years. Actually, Nathan is in his last year of student teaching and will be graduating University in May.

My other daughter Nadalene is a City Planner (not a teacher, but I didn't want to leave her out).

Very interesting.

Love Renee

lakeviewer said...

Renee- I will have to include this information in Part two. Thank you for asking those questions; it helps me to rethink the information needed to understand the many issues facing educational reform in the States.

Saretta said...

Very interesting. I am a teacher, but at the university level in Italy. I'm interested in your perspective.

Saretta said...

p.s. how is your rotator cuff doing?

Cheri Block Sabraw said...

Rosaria,

A persuasive piece of writing, indeed.

I must respectfully disagree with your opinion about the NEA. At every level, at every crossroad, a union by its definition exists to protect its members, even if the members are incompetent.

Look at GM and its union spokesman. The only reason that the autoworkers are making concessions is that their company may go bankrupt.

I am proud of Barack Obama for being the first president to challenge the power of the teachers' union.

Only when the union understands that, as you indeed reference, poor job performance is grounds for dismissal, will American education move forward in ways that it seems, your devoted family of teachers, exemplify.

As it stands now, with tenure, in order to dismiss a teacher, that teacher must either become mentally ill, molest a child, or commit a crime.

I will look forward to your next post.

When will you post it?

The Things We Carried said...

I agree with the second language being taught as soon as preschool! Children really pick up language so much easier the sooner they are exposed.

I am interested to see your next post, as you have worked in this system for so long, you have invaluable insight.

Angela said...

Have you sent your essay on to Mr. Obama? Isn`t he interested in what "real people" have to say? I think you ought to!
Yes, children pick up a second language so easily when they start young! I teach a little girl of four English, she already speaks German and Russian, and she likes to tell me the names of her new English words in Russian! Children LIKE to learn!

Jeff B said...

I'd like to add another opinion of what can and does make the school system better. That would be the parents involvement in the classroom.

In my son's grade school of approx six hundred students you can count on a couple of hands the number of parent volunteers. (My wife being one of them)

Natalie said...

Hi, R. it is Thursday night 12/3/09 here in Aus. and I only just received your van Gogh post just now!
2 days later?????

lakeviewer said...

Natalie,
I can't believe that; but, it is a free service, after all. Up until this January, our town did not have DSL. We had smoke signals on good days.

More and more of us are on the web. The highway is crowded. Never mind the fact that storms interfere with signals.

ed said...

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