A Question of Education

 

I apologize ahead of time.  This may be meandering pig trail, but I feel the need to speak out.  Sorry for the ramble.

My state capital, Columbia, SC, will host a rally for educational reform on May 1st.  A similar rally is being held on the same date in North Carolina and will mirror other rallies that have been held in other states.  I am a retired teacher and feel I should go.  But I can’t.  It is a debate I have had with myself for the past week but I just can’t go.

I’m not the only one debating but at least my debate is with myself.  The Governor has made his feelings known as has the Superintendent of Education.  They are not fans of #ALLOUT…and they will not receive my vote next time around.  Various local superintendents and district spokesmen have made their feelings known and I am not a fan of them either but being retired means I don’t have to work for them or play nice.

What really bothers me is the attitude of everyday South Carolinians.  The rally has been characterized as a “walkout” for better pay by its opponents and maligned by them.  I’ve seen all the arguments.  My favorites are “You knew what you were getting into and if you don’t like it get some other job” and the biggest lie in the world, “You get three months off in the summer and still get paid for it.”

First of all, it’s not a walkout.  You know how South Carolina dislikes anything suggesting a strike.  Teachers are using their personal days or paying for their own subs, and while better pay is an issue, the issues go much deeper than pay…although having to take on a second job to pay for the day you’re taking to go protest is an issue…there I said it.  A protest…but I’ll keep calling it a rally.

The rally is about reducing class sizes, reducing standardized testing and having to teach to the test, not being allowed to teach to anything but standards, not feeling safe or supported in their classrooms, not having the materials to do the job teachers are called to do…not that I really know what that is anymore.  So…keep thinking it is just about pay.

Most importantly, it’s a rally about respect and support, something teachers have lost through no fault of their own.  Something our politicians have given no more than lip service to recently…if ever and which statements like “You knew what you were getting into…” exemplifies.

I am a product of the South Carolina public school system, a product of in-state colleges. I taught in the South Carolina public school systems for forty-five years.  I never considered it a job.  I knew I had been called to teach.

I have been fully retired for four years and it seems a lifetime ago that I last set foot in a classroom.  I saw many changes through the years, a few were good and those that were were fostered by actual educators, even if it was at the request of a politician.

“No Child Left Behind” was not one of the good changes.  The decline in teacher moral escalated with “No Child Left Behind” and the constant testing, teaching to the test, and meeting about the test “ad nauseam.”

Not that “No Child Left Behind” is the only culprit.  South Carolina ranks near the bottom of a bunch of national statistics, education is just one of them.  We rank forty-eighth out of fifty-one in education by pretty much everyone’s ratings.  Fifty states plus the District of Columbia for those who wonder about my own education.

I hang my head wondering how we got that way…oh yeah, we’ve been that way.  I blame it on what I call our “Cotton Mill Mentality” and our Southern desire to maintain a cheap and uneducated workforce.  Too harsh?  Sometimes the truth is just that.

I began attending school in the Fifties, during the hay day of cotton textiles.  Unfortunately, I began teaching as cotton textiles were in decline, finally lost to cheaper foreign labor.

Cotton textiles were a great educational tool for the Carolinas and other Southern states.  Fine people who were not academically inclined could graduate, or not, and still find a position at one of the local cotton mills; make a living, provide for their families and most importantly it seemed, pay taxes.

Unfortunately, those opportunities fled the South and our political leaders were slow to realize that our educational system had to change to meet modern job descriptions.  This was despite warnings issued from educators  I heard as far back as the early Eighties.  I believe we are still paying for that mindset and waiting for cotton textiles to come back.

We have yet to recognize the effect of an educational system hamstrung by backward thinking.   An educational system crippled by politicians and a tax base that refuses to pay for any meaningful change.  A system that is politically driven and slow to involve educators in the process.

An educational system injured by a belief that education is really not important and why do I have to pay when I don’t have a child in school…or why should I worry about what is happening in the I-95 corridor if I live in the upstate.

Recently it seems another fear has emerged from our strongly conservative base, a fear that teachers are teaching liberalism and socialism, turning all our students into little communists.  It seems that to protest or rather rally helps to stoke those fears.

Teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less.  More testing, more planning for testing, more collaboration about testing.  More time pouring over statistics trying to analyze test results you are not allowed to see.

Less time to prepare for the actual class.  Paying for materials out of their own pockets or doing without.  Open disrespect and a lack of support.  This what the rally is about and if it inconveniences someone…well good.

More teachers are leaving the profession and fewer students are picking education as a life’s work.  Why would they?  Fewer teachers mean more students per class which means less time.  If you believe the student per teacher ratio means anything, I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you.

Curriculum requirements have changed but the time to teach all that is needed has decreased.  Fewer resources, less time to do their jobs. Less time for teachers to make a meaningful dent in the problems facing our youth in a modern world…a world they didn’t create but will have to pay for.

Who suffers in all this…besides the teacher?  The one most significant change I suffered as class sizes crept up was a loss of contact with students.  I didn’t get as close to my students because I didn’t have the time to get close to my classes.  I didn’t get to find out what was bothering Bobbi Jo or Tyrek.  I tried, but it just isn’t possible.  Someone slides through the cracks.  That might be the greatest loss of all.

Okay, I guess I have ranted enough.  I pray for positive change.  Our children are our futures…they are our legacies.  They deserve our best efforts and teachers deserve the tools to make those efforts…they deserve the respect.

I should be there, marching, “rallying”, channeling my inner hippie…my inner liberal…my inner communist. LOL.

The picture is from the Post and Courier, Charleston, SC

For further ramblings please follow my author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

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