Since the late 1960's America's public schools have really taken a beating. Unfortunately, a lot of it has come from Christians. As a Christ-Follower who works in a public school district, I have really felt the criticism (and fire) from other Christians. That saddens me because I think people fail to realize exactly how fortunate we are to have public schooling available in this country.
I want to start out this blog by saying I am not against home schooling or private schools. I have relatives who home-schooled their children. Those children have done quite well. I have nothing but respect for my cousins who tackled the difficult task of instructing all of their children at home. All of them who did this had at least four children.
My own child was educated at a private school. While he has some learning disabilities, I knew he would not qualify for special ed services within the school district. I also knew he would not do well being bussed across town and being in an over-crowded classroom. There was an excellent Christian school with long history and a very high reputation three blocks from our home. The small class sizes would compensate for the lack of special ed services and he would be able to receive an excellent classical education in a Christian environment. With help from my mom, some scholarship money and a lot of sacrifices on our part (such as not buying a home until our forties), our son was able to attend there from the time he was 5 until when he graduated.
As previously stated, this blog is not an attack against home schools or private schools. It is merely an attempt to provide a clearer picture of America's schools and the problems facing them from the inside out.
When it comes to public schools, it seems like everyone is an expert. Since most of us sat in a desk in a public school, we feel like we know everything there is to know about how school works. As someone who has both sat in a desk as a student and stood at the front of a classroom as a teacher, I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth. I'd like to draw aside the curtain for a moment and give you a peek at the real world of public schools in America. Since I have spent my entire teaching career in a large urban school district (except when I was student teaching), I can only show you a picture of the urban school in America. Since that's the type of school most likely to come under fire, I guess that's appropriate.
According to my school district's website, there are 150 different languages spoken by students in our schools. The major ones are English, Spanish, Hmong and Somalian. While I won't list the rest, we have a variety of Native American languages as well as languages from every continent. While many of our students are bi-lingual, a number of them are not. By the way, it takes seven years to develop academic language. This means that just because someone can hold a social conversation with you does not mean their comprehension is proficient enough for academics. The language barrier is a real problem for public schools. Currently, more than one-third of my class are non-native speakers of English. I teach second grade so this means I'm teaching them to read in a foreign language. This is not an easy task. In order to be enrolled in a private school you usually have to have a proficiency test. Few if any of these ELL students would pass the test. Of course, language barriers usually aren't an issue for the home school as generally the children speak the same language as the parent.
Seventy percent of the students at my school are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Some of the schools are at 100%. This paints a pretty good picture of the socio-economic status of my classroom. It is not unusual for me to have students who live in homeless shelters. I have children calmly talking about rehab and prisons. Years ago, when I was a substitute teacher, I was teasing a boy I knew about being so sleepy. That's when he told me he couldn't sleep the night before due to gunshots in the neighborhood.
Once, when I was teaching technology, I unknowingly had a confrontation with a sixth grader who was carrying a gun. He stared at me for a moment and then reluctantly sat down. Shortly thereafter, he was picked up by his classroom teacher. About 30 minutes later the media teacher, who had witnessed the confrontation came in with a very pale face. She trembled as she told me a loaded gun had just been removed from the student and he had been taken away by the police. Thankfully no one was hurt. He had been bragging about it after leaving my class and someone had enough sense to quietly report it. When I think about what could have happened, I thank God for protecting me as well as the rest of the people at our school.
While some of the schools have an abundance of resources, ours does not. A survey was done a year ago to find out how many books in the classroom libraries had been purchased with personal funds. Every classroom teacher reported 100%. We are not reimbursed the money because there just are not the funds to provide it. Thankfully we recently received a huge grant from the State of Minnesota and we are finally getting more leveled books. Even though students still have to share copies of the same book, at least they can share it with one partner instead of four or five kids!
My son's classroom was limited to 20 students. At the beginning of the year, I had 31. Two classes had less so we were able to even things out at 28. Ten children speak Spanish, two children receive special ed services and eight more have been referred for special ed services.Three of those students have been waiting since last year to be evaluated for behavior disorders. One student is autistic but is functioning just a bit too high to receive an educational assistant. They're in line but we're short manpower so they have to wait.
Oh, I also have three students who attended charter schools last year. They were told they could not return so their parents had no choice but to enroll them in a public school. You see, we don't get to pick and choose who comes to our schools. We have to take everybody. We even have a school for those convicted of crimes. It accepts 17-22 year-olds who have not graduated yet.
Did you know when they publish test scores, the scores of all children including special ed and non-English speaking students (and I mean non-English speaking) are included? Did you know that many school districts have a highly mobile population? I had a student arrive from Chicago attend school for two days before moving on to another school. We work hard to try to keep children at the same school but that often is not possible. Some children move multiple times during the school year so this can be extremely disruptive towards their learning.
Nobody goes into teaching for the money. You've probably heard it and it's true. Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not have paid vacation time (including the summer). Most people get at least two weeks of vacation a year if they are employed full time. We get none. If we get paid during the summer and over breaks it is because we have agreed to have our pay pro-rated. We're paid for 40 hours a week but most of us show up an hour or two before school and stay an hour or two after school. Plus, we take more stuff home. You might say executives put in that amount of time but trust me, executives get paid much more. We do get paid for some prep time of course. In my district we get 55 minutes per day. During this time we're supposed to prepare for reading, language arts, math, science, social studies and all of those other good things. We're supposed to get everything corrected and do all of our paperwork, prepare newsletters, run copies, answer phone calls, make phone calls and have meetings. As you can see, we have a lot of time on our hands. I'm being sarcastic. Recently a group of teachers from our district went to Sweden. They were shocked. In Sweden a teacher receives one hour of paid prep time for every hour taught. Half of the time they are teaching and half of the time they are preparing. I'm jealous.
I really don't mean to be complaining. I chose my profession because I have a passion for it. I love teaching! However, it is a stressful and demanding job. It makes me sad to see so many teachers working so hard only to be severely criticized by the media and others. I can't help but wonder how those same critics would fare if they spent a day in our classrooms?
Teaching is like any other profession. We have lazy and incompetent teachers as well. However, for the most part being isolated in a room with 28 wiggly second graders is not a job for the faint-hearted. They can bring you to your knees in five minutes if you're not careful, even if they are small and cute!
I'm only saying that before you criticize public education, you need to take the time to pay a visit to some classrooms. See what is going on in public education. It may surprise you. My second graders aren't reading See Spot run. They're analyzing and discussing the text. They use graphic organizers and make connections to the real world. Today they learned that Rectangle A which is 2" long and 3" high is congruent with Rectangle B which is 3" long and 2" high and six equilateral triangles can be put together to form a hexagon. They're learning a foreign language and they're learning to play the violin. They can name all of the parts of an apple and take you through the pollination process step by step.
Many of our public schools work with difficult,challenging and needy children and their families. Remember, we have to take everybody. We don't get to select our students. Many of these schools are working with very limited resources. Our public schools don't need criticism, they need support. Without us, many children, particularly those in poverty, would be left behind with no where else to go. We really are not the enemy. We're just trying to help.
I have friends who are teachers and I can only say, thank God for those of you He gifted to teach our children. I am very grateful that God has strategically placed His children in the public schools for our children. Mine always went to public school. Homeschooling was never a thought in my household, and private school simply financially out of reach.
Thank you! for being obedient to God, for loving the children, for loving to teach, for putting up with uh, parents. We took our son off the school bus when he witnessed a parent cussing out the bus driver for an extended period of time in front of all the children.
WOW.. This is a real eye opener for me. K come and teach in the UK, for our teachers get paid vacation in the summer.
As you know I work with the 16-18 year olds in my school and I didn't realise how fortunate they were until I read your blog. If they require any particular book for their studies all I have to do is purchase it and send the bill to the Burser. No questions asked, the bill is paid.
I know in my school we don't have the same problems you seem to have because we are semi gov funded and semi private,but my hat does go off to you and all the other public school teachers and assistants out there. We think our kids are little angels and at times we close our ears when a member of staff tries to tell us otherwise. I think as parents we need to get behind you and stop standing on the sidelines whining about our schools.
We need to teach our children respect, respect for school property and respect for their teachers.. and stop trying to put all the blame on an overworked and under funded system.
Ohh and just remember .. when you go back after your vacation.. it will only be 16 weeks until the christmas vacation