Fixing Education--A Place to Start...

Years ago, when visiting my mom, we'd often spend our time together running her errands. Every once in a while someone would come up to us, and with genuine affection introduce themselves as one of her former students.

After extolling lavish praise—what a great teacher she'd been, how she'd inspired them to pursue science, oceanography, turned them on to learning like none before her, they'd turn to me and assure me of my mother's great gift.

I've met ten or more of her former students over the years shopping with my mom. Two said they became oceanographers because of her. Several said they pursued the sciences and had become ecologists, geologists, one even a physicist because of the nine week outreach program my mother created through the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium for low-income schools in Los Angeles.

Teachers matter.

Good teachers can change the world, one student at a time, turn them on to a love of learning for life. Good teachers can inspire students to achieve their potential, and ooh, how much potential we humans have! : )

My mother inspired me to become a teacher. I taught college for 5 yrs and I learned more teaching than I could have ever possibly taught. Describing design and marketing principles to 50 adults, each with their own learning style required approaching the subject matter from a myriad of view points. Every class was a test of my abilities to communicate effectively, patiently, listen, as well as an opportunity to learn how to become a better teacher.

Good teaching is hard. Demanding. No doubt about it. It requires teachers continually contribute to gaining an intimate knowledge of each subject they teach, AND get to know the psychology of each of their students. And human are complex, at the very least. Good teachers work at the art of teaching constantly, in the classroom and out in the real world, perpetually seeking information, learning techniques and creative approaches that enhance and accelerate the learning process. They demand excellence from their students and themselves, consistently give homework and tests and then correct student work quickly and review within days for continuity in learning. Good teachers spend endless hours learning, and most of their evenings correcting assignments and grading tests, not watching TV.

It's damn hard to be a good teacher. Which is why so many teachers aren't.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I've not been a fan of our K-12 public educations systems of late. And I have good reason. I have a 10 and 12 year old in public school in No. California. The last eight years I've dealt with well over 20 teachers, five principles, and several school board supervisors between my kids elementary and middle schools.

Being a good teacher is hard. Finding them is harder.

Most of us remember a few, and if we’re lucky a handful of great teachers we’ve had. But between those who could care less and those who strive to be the best lies the rest—including most teachers on the bell curve. Following the statistical norm, out of the all teachers my kids have had so far, four were/are undeniably fantastic (first to get to school, last to leave [by hours]); three new ones have shown great promise; a few outright lazy, but most have been unremarkable, leaving minutes after the bell; inconsistent with assignments, homework, tests; taking weeks to grade and return work, corrupting the very foundation of discipline through consistency they should be modeling and imposing on students.

Let me be perfectly clear, I am pro teacher—GOOD teachers, in a big way! The four great teachers I mentioned earlier (even the three with promise), whatever they want from me, they get. Money for whatever they need, I write a check. My time, if work allows me, to come in class and help, I'm there. Anything I can do to support good teachers, including eliminating salary caps and establishing bonus plans for demonstrating excellence, I down for.

Teachers matter.

Good teacher should be rewarded without limits, as any employee in any company delivering measurable results.

Bad teachers matter too, do the opposite of what good teachers do—turn off instead of inspire. But between the Teacher's Union's protections and the misguided social sentiment about educators, getting rid of bad teachers in our public school system is nearly impossible. Failing teachers are simply transferred to other schools ‘in what's been dubbed the "dance of the lemons,"' taking away any competitive incentive to be the best knowing they keep their job regardless of performance.

Teaching is a not a religion. It is a profession. A choice. With every paying job there is a boss. Mine are my clients, who pay for my services. Educators are paid on public funds. Tax dollars pay their salary and benefits. Their tax contributions go to their own bottom line, none to mine. Educators [should] invariably answer to the parents/homeowners/taxpayers paying their salary. But they don't. I've had little to no influence in the many hours I've pursued engaging in dialog, emails, meetings with teachers and principals alike. And I am not alone. Many parents try and continue to fail in getting their public school to take action in response to complaint after complaint of specific educators and teaching practices. We've been unable to affect change.

The heartfelt refrain that our education system is failing from lack of funding is specious at best. The current, almost religious ideology that all teachers are saints, as a famous children's author recently Tweeted after President Obama touted teacher's praises in his State of the Union address makes it that much harder for reason to be heard above the politically correct din.

Our district school board is asking for, and will get another parcel tax added on to our property taxes this November. If the recent past is any indication of the future, bending over and writing another check buys little to nothing that directly benefits our kids. Taxes were asked for and granted last election and five more days and several art and music programs were still cut from the 2011-2012 school calendar.

Burdening homeowners to contribute again and again to our broken education system will not fix it. What will? Complex problem to be sure, but perhaps starting in the classroom, promoting good teachers with salary and benefit incentives, and getting rid of bad teachers, and subsequently, admin who don't listen and/or respond to their constituents would be a place to start...

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