I have trouble sleeping. I toss and turn and my mind runs here and there, and drifting off for a peaceful night’s rest doesn’t come easily. Thusly, I get up each morning around the crack of dawn and begin my day.
Since I was 4, beginning my day means reading the morning papers. I like to hold the newsprint in my hand. I am not a fan of the online product. So, the first thing I do each day is to walk along my driveway, between the woods and a pasture, to retrieve the paper — 175 yards is as about as close as our delivery person can get ours.
At 6:30 a.m. I scare up a lot of wildlife every morning. Just this week I’ve been greeted by three deer, who acted like they had more right to be in my pasture than I did, two armadillos, who are making a mess of my lawn, a plethora of squirrels, a chipmunk, a screech owl and two raccoons.
I live in the country, understand, and I told you that to tell you this.
Every morning, around 6 a.m, as I fetch my paper, I encounter a yellow school bus, lights flashing from every corner — taking the future citizens of Rockdale County, Georgia, and the United States to school where they will learn and grow intellectually and become good solid citizens who will stay in school and graduate and learn to be productive in society.
That’s the plan. And I am sure that is just what is happening in few schools in Georgia. I know that Oconee County is getting amazing results. I know that Cobb County and City of Marietta Schools are doing well. I know that there are some other success stories out there.
But … and there is always a but ... the majority of schools that are achieving at a high rate are schools in socioeconomic areas where academics has always been in style. Those are areas where parents value education above almost any other endeavor, read to their children and prepare them for school from birth and send their children to school with the expectation that they will mind the teacher and do their work. That’s a formula for success no matter your ZIP code.
The rub is that the state of Georgia is responsible for preparing students in every ZIP code. And that’s where the struggles come in.
After 38 years in the classroom, I think I know a little about how to help. But nobody’s ever asked me — which, quite honestly, I find a little disconcerting. I’m afraid they might not really want to hear the answer. I might just give it anyway.
Smaller classes and accountability would go far in improving our schools success rate. Note, I didn’t say test scores. I recently took a look at my second-grade class picture. There were 36 of us little lintheads in one classroom, with one magnificent teacher and no aides or technology. My teacher, Miss Ruby Lee Jordon, had no problem with any of us because our parents made us mind. If we had gotten in trouble at school, we would have been in worse trouble at home.
That’s is not how society works in 2019, so the fewer students to manage the more personal attention students would get. It would help. The second part of that equation I stated was accountability. We must begin in the very beginning and hold students accountable for their learning — as we go along — not on the weeks of the almighty standardized tests — which should be neither frequent nor almighty. How do we hold them accountable? By having consequences for their learning and behavior — and if you have severe enough consequences for behavior — with an administration that would stand behind the teacher, and I mean from the principal’s office to the school board chair — then achievement would rise. And we should never allow one student’s bad behavior to interfere with another child’s opportunity to learn.
Teachers should be more empowered to teach and not to follow rote directives handed down three levels from the Ivory Towers of administration to the trenches of the classroom.
Good teachers are artists, not scientists, metaphorically speaking. They should be allowed to practice their art. If Michelangelo or Rembrandt or Monet were hired by some public school systems, they would be issued a paint-by-number kit and forced to use it.
If the state paid better, we’d attract and keep better teachers. We’d attract and keep even more if we paid them better AND gave them more control within their own classrooms and more respect in general.
Gov. Brian Kemp understands the situation and is trying to make needed improvements. The state raised teacher pay by $3,000 last year. I am hoping they can find the other $2,000 that was actually promised. I am confident that the governor is trying. That’s a start.
Understanding the bloated bureaucracy and CYA mentality that motivates so many of those people, to the detriment of classroom learning, is a harder problem to solve. And then there is money. There is always the problem of money. But we need to examine our priorities as a state and put our heads together and find the money.
If you think funding school is expensive, wait until you figure out how expensive it is not to fund school.