USA Today Best of 2012

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

3 Cheers for Public School (yes, I mean it!)

Blaming "the gov'met" for everything is almost an American pastime. A perennial favorite for these whinefests is "public schools". Just crack open an editorial/opinion section of a newspaper and pretty much everything wrong in the world is blamed on the public school system.

As someone who has spent the last 8 years as an almost full-time volunteer and/or substitute teacher in some 7 elementary and middle schools in 2 states, I applaud what public educators accomplish. In our society, every parent has the "right" to send his children to public school, regardless of the effort he puts into disciplining his offspring or helping them learn, regardless of whether he provides them with school supplies, launders their clothing or feeds them. Mom can tell the teachers she doesn't "believe in homework" because her kids will earn more on Welfare than in dead-end jobs. The boy in the front row of a classroom may have gone to bed at 8 or 11 or not at all. He may have slept in a car the next town over while Mom went into a house to "buy something" and didn't come out til morning. Maybe he has a bed, but he comes to school itching from strange bites all over his body from "little bugs" in his sheets. He might have language obstacles to overcome, or learning disabilities. His parents could have obscure religious beliefs that'll send them running into the classroom complaining about certain curricula. Some kids are determined to make good grades so they can get into a prestigious college, coveting perfect attendance, while another misses every Wednesday in first grade because it's Mommy's day off and she'd rather sleep in than get him to school. Not only does his school lose money for the days he misses, but if his standardized test scores lag, "the school system" has failed, and in some states the school's funding is then docked even more.

No, these kids aren't fictional. Neither is the little kindergarten guy whose daddy was stoned out of his mind every single day when he drove him to school or the 7th grade girl who told me outright, "My mom used to be a crack whore, but not anymore. Now she's into meth." They're real kids in affluent - yet diverse -communities. Teachers cope with diversity every day. One student might be miles ahead of the others and eager to learn more; meanwhile she's dealing with Fidgety Farrah, who had a Mountain Dew on the way to school.

Teachers are, by and large, good people who want to improve the world. They're not getting rich but they certainly enrich many lives. Patience isn't just a virtue, it's a requirement in schools, and to be honest, most of the people I've heard "dissing" public school don't have the sort of patience themselves to make it through a single day there. Lucky them - they get to send their kids off to school, just like those of us who appreciate it.

No matter who you are, at least one teacher made a difference in your life. Maybe she taugh a subject you loved, or was a friendly face during those awful adolescent years when Mom and Dad were the dumbest people you knew. Chances are, it was a public school teacher (88% of kids are enrolled in public school). My hat is off to the fine folk trudging back to their classrooms this time of year. And in case you don't hear it often enough, hey... thanks.

Autumn Piper
Got romance?

(If you like this, feel free to pass it on, at least to a teacher who made a difference in your life.)

1 comment:

Sutton Fox said...

Great post Autumn. Although my kids are grown, school budget cuts always seem to make news this time of year. The things I've heard are apalling. If they're cutting anything, they need to start at the top. Not the bottom which directly effects teachers and kids. The challenges they face everyday are hard enough already.