Georgia Voices: Back to the basics — Learning boils down to human connections
by The Gainesville Times
August 01, 2013 10:51 PM | 2442 views | 2 2 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In coming days, parents will be hitting the stores for shoes, notebooks and glue pens, chiseling dried gum off last year’s backpacks and preparing for another school year.

Whether you’re new to local school systems or a veteran, this summer’s news must leave your head spinning.

Common Core or no? No to most of it, Georgia says. No Child Left Behind gets left behind in a Race to the Top. CRCT, EOCT, charter schools, innovative “academies” with names out to here, changing curriculums, new initiatives and the push for more “rigor” in classrooms. And what to make of how technology best figures into the mix?

It’s all a blur to those who went to school in simpler times. For decades, the subjects changed little: math, from 1 plus 1 up to calculus; English, before it became language arts; history and geography, before they became social studies; science, before it became STEM; and a healthy dose of art, music, physical education, home economics and shop.

The classrooms had chalkboards, old-fashioned green slates marked with white dust. Students watched grainy black-and-white films on reel-to-reel projectors. It was basic, yes, but it got the job done. Most who grew up and attended school in the last half of the 20th century managed just fine.

Yet whatever changes our schools have seen, one constant is this: The four cornerstones of learning are dedicated teachers, attentive students, supportive parents and committed communities.

Few jobs come with more challenges and less appreciation than teaching. Educators must boil curriculums down to lesson plans students can absorb. The push to emphasize science, math and technology is needed in a workplace hungry for high-tech wizards. But teachers must create well-rounded adults who appreciate literature and art as well.

They also must prepare future leaders and voters by teaching history and civics in more depth to help them understand a complex world, something hard to measure on a standardized test.

On beefing up social studies, Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said this at a recent school board meeting: “I get a sinking feeling that there are far too many citizens walking around today that are unfamiliar with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and what $15 trillion in debt means to their future.” Amen.

Mobile technology creates a new challenge. While technology already is playing an important role in teaching when used right, it can be a distraction when it is used wrong, and needs to be kept in check. And students sometimes must unplug long enough to pay attention to the grown-up speaking to them.

More students today also are from nontraditional families, whose transient nature make it harder to establish roots. Many are immigrants learning a new language and culture before they were fully comfortable in the old one. And in an era of economic uncertainty, more come to school hungry and lack the stable home environment needed to foster good study habits.

Teachers and administrators no longer are just well-trained pros hired to provide lessons and grade results. Now they must serve as counselors and role models, dipping into their own pockets for supplies and into their own hearts for emotional support. None of this was in the job description for Miss Landers when she guided Beaver Cleaver’s class. ...

For these efforts to pay off, students must want to learn. Those willing to invest in their future by embracing a good education will reap its rewards. Those who don’t can hurt themselves and can drag down a whole class. To build a future in an uncertain world, they must acquire the right tools their teachers work so hard to provide.

Here is where parents come in. Those who enable their kids’ endless hunger for junk food of the mind and body make schools’ jobs even harder. Worse are parents who fail to support school officials by acting as their children’s lawyers when behavioral problems arise. At one time, teachers and parents were on the same page, each respecting the other’s roles and authority. That relationship is vital to show children that both sets of adults are working in their best interests.

It was one thing when mom or dad would pitch in to help create that papier-mache volcano full of baking soda. Yet too many parents now take class projects in their own hands to help their kids pass. Good grades are important, but As and Bs not earned are hollow accomplishments and will be revealed as such when the child exits their safe cocoon. Kids who do their own homework, knowing they can’t play outside or plug in their Wii until they do, will learn valuable lessons in and out of class.

The final piece of the puzzle comes from those of us who elect leaders, pay taxes and guide school boards. We must provide the resources needed and insist schools not be scavenged to balance budgets. Education can’t be bought on the cheap; while more money isn’t always the answer, less money never is. Voters should let elected officials know that anything less than a stellar school system in their communities is unacceptable.

To prepare students for the future they will inherit takes everything we can muster. Despite all the exams and measuring sticks meant to gauge student progress, the real proof of achievement won’t be known until a generation of well-learned, thinking citizens make their mark on the world a dozen years from now.

That journey begins again this August in dozens of classrooms. Let’s all do our part to make it special.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
August 03, 2013
Among all the other violin music played in this article, I will dispute just one teeny part of it: "Teachers and administrators no longer are just well-trained pros hired to provide lessons and grade results. Now they must serve as counselors and role models, dipping into their own pockets for supplies and into their own hearts for emotional support. None of this was in the job description for Miss Landers when she guided Beaver Cleaver’s class." I can disprove this quote. Go back and watch Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons and Leaver It To Beaver again. ALL THREE have more than one episode where they function as counselors and role models and dip into their own pockets for supplies and into their own hearts for emotional support. The more I read of bunk such as this article, the more convinced I am that today's teachers are money grubbing, half a year working, shooting for six figures people. Cry me another river. Today's teachers have it on easy street compared to teacher's of the past. Next thing we will read is that today's teachers want to stay home and teach by computer, eating bon-bons all day. Oh, and cut that work day down to 4 hours, half a year please. Excuse me while I get another frozen grape popped into my mouth...
Critical Mind
August 06, 2013
Anonymous...I have heard so many people say that they couldn't and wouldn't do what teachers do. Unless you teach or have taught, you haven't the foggiest idea what you are talking about. Most ignorant people who criticize educators know the least about what they do, so before you get on your high horse, why don't you try getting on that high horse and ride it. Just because you graduated from elementary, middle and high school doesn't qualify you to critique it or teach it. Most people don't go into your career and question your methods, so I suggest you do the same.
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