06/23/12 — An assignment: Consider what we expect of teachers -- and what their true mission should be

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An assignment: Consider what we expect of teachers -- and what their true mission should be

School is out for the summer, and once again, thoughts are turning to reform.

The discussion is as ever-present as those about how much is the right amount to invest in education and if year-round schools make sense.

And perhaps it is time to look a little more closely at schools and their future not only in Wayne County, but across the state.

Educators don't like to hear it, but truth is, there are some teachers who should be encouraged to move on to another line of work. It is not as prevalent as the critics suggest, and it is no different than in any other profession. Some people are just better at the job than others.

It is not an indictment of all teachers to say that some should go any more than it is to say that politicians who are crooked or garbage collectors who are lazy should be removed from their jobs. And it is not fair to assume, either, that just because there are a few bad apples, there is a reason to indict an entire profession, either.

But if you are going to talk about school reform, and teachers and administrators' roles in that effort, you have to examine a few facts, too.

•Being a teacher today is as much about things other than learning as it is about books and tests. There is a different feel in classrooms today -- and the children are different, too. Many teachers have to deal with circumstances and behaviors that begin -- and are not corrected -- in the home, and that can make learning a much more difficult task. Teachers are asked to be parents in some cases, at the expense of those in the class who have active and involved guardians. And the quality of education cannot help but be compromised as their attentions are further and further divided.

•The vast majority of teachers are in the business because they care about their students, period. If they weren't, they would not go the extra mile, provide extra materials and extra time, often without compensation of any kind, to help their students succeed. More of that goes on than is ever reported, and it is the rule, not the exception.

•There is more and more paperwork and red tape than ever involved in education. Just like any profession, there are reports and notes that have to be taken and forms that must be filled out. Add lesson plans, discipline documentation and the normal business of recertification and you have paperwork that also takes time away from the classroom. The more government is involved in the schools, the more time will be spent on bureaucracy at all levels and less on actually educating students.

•More and more teachers are retiring because they are tired. Dealing with your own children is no small job. Imagine having to deal with 30 children -- or more -- every hour on the hour. Add on increased demands for testing, paperwork and activities and responsibilities outside the classroom, and you can see why so many are heading for retirement. And while some should move on, there are many more who have so much more to contribute. We should remember that resource as we look into the future.

Everybody thinks they can run a school district and many, many people think they know exactly what it will take to make a classroom work. But the truth is that the world of education is as much of a mystery to the average person as any profession is to someone who does not work in it day after day, year after year. You think you know, but you don't really, until you walk in someone else's shoes for the day.

Education reform is fine. And there should be discussions, always, about better ways to handle educating our children. Most teachers and administrators would wholeheartedly approve of that suggestion.

But real, meaningful change requires more than finding a scapegoat. It takes a hard look at what life is like in schools and where change will really affect the outcomes of the students the system serves.

That question should be everyone's summer assignment.

Published in Editorials on June 23, 2012 11:28 PM