Admittedly graduates of 1972 are facing a new reality–we are reaching traditional retirement age. Last week my hometown class faced the reality with the death of our classmate Steve. The event might not seem noteworthy, but only one other classmate Debby has died and that was due to a train wreck within the first year after graduation.
Flash ahead to the events of another tragic school shooting this week. How do these become connected? For my classmates education was valued. We were taught that school came first. We were pushed to focus on academics even before sports–I know, that may shock many today.
My parents tasted college, but never finished a degree plan. We lived in rural American when family farms were the norm in the Midwest. They instilled the value of education for my brother and myself so we did complete college, even achieving our masters later in our adult lives. We were blessed to have our parents and live in a rural community.
Reviewing the circumstances of the 1972 Class from Montgomery County R-II, I cannot escape making observations that may be overlooked in our current school environments, especially after this week’s horrific Florida school shooting:
- Numbers. The size of our schools continues to grow reaching the size of a city. How in the world can students be individuals if they are forced to bump shoulders, often literally, in the halls and classrooms of a building?
- Testing. Another concern is that success in school is based on numbers, not on student individual growth. The individual is lost in the demand that testing prove achievement. Some testing is necessary, but just as a marker not a permanent diagnosis.
- Teachers. Value teachers! What other profession places educational demands at the cost of the individual without fair and equitable salary and benefits. The profession cannot maintain the gifted teachers who are called–yes called–to step into the classroom alone with 20-30 kids who no longer value education and/or have no stable home environment to support them as they step into the classroom.
- Students. Yes, there are those who do value education, are respectful, and have a supportive system, but sadly they are being outnumbered by the students on the opposite side of the spectrum who need schools to be a safe, supportive, nurturing environment that can teach them how to dream, set a path to reach that dream, and to work successfully towards that dream once they are fed, clothed, and housed safely.
The classes of ’72 is waning and the generations now entering into the profession of education may not have any of the critical skills or understanding of how to teach the masses who are now generations removed from the Greatest Generation and its values.
Do I have recommendations? Certainly,
- Reduce the size of schools. Create a learning environment that is safe, family-like, and supportive. I realize the cost is beyond consideration, but why not be inventive and establish settings in some of the places that are unused during the school week. Think about empty store fronts, empty Sunday school classrooms, office buildings. Use the spaces effectively and reduce the physical size of the schools were kids are crammed into one place.
- Establish reasonable testing expectations. Numbers are NOT the only way to measure student growth. You cannot boil education down to one standardized set of scores. No child should be left behind, but education is not about a set of numbers, it is about growth and nourishing our young people to be the best they can be.
- Value teachers. Provide a reasonable financial package, including appropriate benefits for teachers that attracts them into the profession rather than turn them away. Teachers are life long learners, but the salaries do not support continued education even while requiring more formal education. Masters degrees are expected within five years of starting one’s career. Sadly the income cannot sustain a teacher to live at a comfortable standard and pay for the coursework demanded of the profession. There is very little incentive to invest in teaching as a lifelong profession, especially if wanting to raise a family, too.
- Students are important. Every teacher must be taught the neurology of learning and the development markers that all students inevitably must face and manage. Education is malleable, not concrete. No one student follows a prescribed formula. Each student is different and all teachers must be taught to know that and even to recognize that reality. Students must be valued. Students must not be just a number.
Our society must accept the reality that we are far removed from the Greatest Generation. The truth is the potential for each generation to be the greatest is always present. The horror is that we are not acknowledging the potential in our individual students by the devaluing of the human factors in education.
Our culture places the dollar before education. Education is how we make American great again. When we prioritize the profession, the teachers, and especially the students then we will make American great again. This week’s violence must not be forgotten. Let’s use it as a cry for the change at the very foundation of our society–our education of the future. This is the way to stop the violence in the schools–shift the value, even the paradigm, of education in our schools today.