Thursday, January 15, 2015

I didn't mean to insult postal workers.

Yesterday, the local newspaper released a link to the Department of Education's report on the specific salaries of every individual teacher in the county.  My Facebook feed filled up with comments on both sides of the "are teachers overpaid" debate, ultimately resulting in me insulting my mailman.

I didn't mean to do it.  I just don't understand why educators are singled out, by name,  for this annual "shaming."  The scrutiny on education is already difficult enough, and to add the burden of having to "justify" your worth is exhausting.  In an attempt to identify another career that provides services to the community, I googled the starting salary for a Postal Worker.  Google's result was $51,000.  Don't get me wrong.  I wasn't singling out mailmen/women to criticize what they make.  But I also don't see an annual accounting, BY NAME, of the salaries of the "Rain and Snow and Dark of Night" brigade.  

It didn't seem fair to choose firefighters of policemen, although considering school violence statistics at this point, the combat zones aren't all that different in some municipalities.  I simply chose the postal service as a means to illustrate my point that snide comments and pointing fingers don't truly help anyone currently working in public education.  Of course, the immediate argument was that teachers "only work 9.5 months", while postal workers, I was told, work 237 days.  I tried to be kind and didn't argue the number of hours in an average teacher's day, pointing out the number of weekend competitions and summer hours and continuing education days, as well as the number of advanced degrees held by teachers.

The debate could go on forever.  Fortunately in this round, there were others in the discussion who added their own insights as well.

I'm hoping that my mail still comes to my house with all the coupons intact.  Despite what my mailman may think, the actual broken-down hourly rate of that salary can certainly be enhanced by 50 cents off English Muffins.

What changes do you envision in the next ten years?

Is there a chance that the next ten years will bring about school reform?  And by that I mean, in Pennsylvania, a financial system that makes sense, as well as a testing platform the allows enough time to teach content instead of just testing strategies.  

Education has become what the Sonic the Hedgehog cheat codes were in the early nineties.  My son would rush home, turn on the TV, and magically "level up" based upon some hack he had learned on the bus for the game.  (Meanwhile, I have never been able to cause that little blue hedgehog to run across the rotating spikey log to jump for golden rings -- not that I'm bitter, or anything.)  We're practicing taking tests, we're teaching testing strategies, and we're preparing kids emotionally to both take tests, and deal with failing the tests and completing some sort of alternate assessment to prove their worth.  What we've lost is content, time to get to know the kids and have meaningful discussions, and anything that used to happen in the classroom that didn't specifically tie to the "essential question" of the day, but still was grounded in the skills necessary for becoming a decent human being in society. 

Rural Pennsylvania is a great place to work and raise your kids.  Unless you happen to live in the township that has seen more housing growth in the last fifteen years than any other community.  Couple that housing boom, and subsequent growth in student population in the school district, with the nearly-nonexistent number of businesses contributing to the tax base, and it's easy to understand why the district next door, rich in businesses like QVC in a sizable industrial park,  The Nook sports complex, and dozens of shopping centers, is raking in the dough at an alarmingly higher rate.  Our district has the second highest taxes in the county, because the homeowners are footing the majority of the tax bill.  It's been a problem for years.  I'm hoping that sometime in the next ten years there will be educational reform, at least as it applies to the distribution of funding.

One final change I'd love to see, as the Coke commercial music about "Perfect Harmony" plays in the background:  Breathing space.  It's true that "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony."  Translation, given that I am virtually tone-deaf, and know nothing about teaching singing.  Our students deserve the right to create lifelong passions and memories in school.  They deserve the right to have time to think, to reflect, and to make adjustments, after a thoughtful and metacognitive process.  They should be able to make cross-curricular connections, not only to develop passion and meaning for core subjects, where it might not already exist, but to find happiness in art, in music, in technology, in writing, or wherever they can discover their joy, that will offer them the escape they need when their careers seem overwhelming and others don't understand why they act so burdened.  The current Common Core standards don't see the skills related to thinking as worthy of mention, but if we don't provide the foundational skills for learning, at the expense of the foundational skills for test-taking, I fear for the future of society.  (Cue quote from John Green in the photo above.)

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