Fast Company, April 2000 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

"Schools That Think", by Sara Terry, Fast Company, April 2000, pp. 306-310.

Everyone agrees: Education is essential for the future of the new economy. Everyone agrees: The public education system needs reform. No one agrees on how to do it. (Terry, p. 304)

Non-traditional school is becoming less of a buzzword and more of a reality in the year 2000 for a few select schools. Our educational systems are going to be in dire need of more educators with an estimated shortage of 26,000 teachers, reported our principal at our last staff meeting. A personal discussion with teachers across rural Minnesota indicates that these teachers find the numbers reported to be unreal. They feel the need is primarily urban. However, the reality is, statistics are indicating a growing need for more teachers. Why is the need for more teachers growing? This is partly due to the low average entrance salaries earned by educators as compared to other more 'lucrative' employment opportunities available for today's graduating college students.

Why should they, new teachers, enter the low paid battleground of today's classrooms? Several reasons college graduates may be refraining from entering the teaching field may be drawn from the following list. Issues of increased random acts of school violence, discipline issues of a more intense and demanding nature, and more diversity in the needs of students in classrooms coupled with school budgets that provide only the bare minimum in school buildings, supplies, equipment and technology. Educators are presented with being expected to train young people to enter this increasingly more technologically advanced society without the equipment, training or experience themselves. Let alone being able to provide their students with the type of training needed to enter into this advanced technologic society. Add in the fear of a six year old child coming to school with a gun in his or her backpack in Kindergarten or a madman entering your playground and open firing at your elementary school because he is angry at who knows what. Who would wonder why teachers are landing computer jobs or entering into higher paying research firms.

Having the passion to teach is not enough anymore. Teachers need to be trained to utilize the high-tech equipment. Teachers need to be trained to deescalate volatile students. Teachers need crisis training. Teachers may need to be offered more lucrative, competitive salaries.

Forget the scary issues plagued by our nations schools, the basics aren't even available. Supplies in schools are only the basics, hence teachers are spending their own money if they want to offer more than just the basics in education. They are expected to work on weekends and in summers without pay! It is not shocking to learn about a report that states graduates assigned in new teaching positions leave the field of teaching at an alarmingly high rate of 50% after only three years! (Information verbally passed on by our principal at a staff meeting, she did not save the source.)

Focusing on the article's intent of schoolwide reform, the schools featured have one common thread. These Schools are managing to find additional funds through grants to provide the type of educational climate their schools need to survive and to produce the type of thriving member of society we all want. Each featured school promises to educate children in creative environments. In Denver at the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning, you will find students embarking on learning expeditions.

"A public school, covering grades K through 12, that uses learning expeditions as the foundation of its curriculum. Children from four local school districts are selected by lottery for RMSEL. If they get in, students at every grade level embark on "voyages of learning," near-total immersions in one subject, explored from every possible angle, for months at a time."(p.306)

There are teachers everywhere in our district and in other small rural schools in Northern Minnesota who would and do jump at the chance to saturate their students in the learning environment.

Charter Schools, the "Responsive Classroom" approach, Service Schools, Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning all have one common aim; to encourage the creativity, individuality, responsibility and performance in students. (p. 306)

Isn't the aim of most educational systems to provide these same conditions? Are teachers and administers so different today, in Minnesota or in California or Massachusetts?

These values are not so unlike the values of educators even at the turn of the century. In a discussion I had recently with my step grandmother who taught on her farm in a one-room schoolhouse. She reported that there was no special education teacher and there were plenty of children with learning difficulties and behavior issues to deal with. Supplies were limited if not scarce. What was not limited was her intense desire to provide society with productive, responsible and creative individuals ready to meet the rigors of life after school.

Discriminating between what the real issues of our nation wide educational dilemma can be summarized by these facts:

1. Teachers do want to teach children, they have a passion, and they love the children they teach!

2. Teachers strive to educate themselves so they can best provide for all the needs of their students.

3. Teachers are aware of increasing technological complexities faced by our nations youth and would like to prepare them effectively.

So what is the problem?

>p> 1. Uneven distribution of money to school districts for supplies, equipment and training.

2. Where are the shortages of teachers? The teacher shortages are not in rural school districts. They are in the metropolitan areas. The areas where all the money and technology are available.

So why are the shortages in these areas?

3. An increase in the number of random violence and the lack of respect educators are getting both publicly and by their students forces teachers to find careers that are less stressful and pay the bills.

4. Technology is not evenly available for student in rural versus metropolitan areas.

5. Expecting high quality staff to do more than 'one' job is creating burn out.

Ex: Dean of Students position combined with Athletic Director, Elementary school Principal combined with Special Education Director.

What is next? A first grade teacher preparing meals, second grade teachers cleaning the cafeteria? Increasing the responsibilities to save money only jeopardizes the primary purpose of schools to begin with. Educating our nation's children.

6. Lack of paid preparation time. The current amount of preparation time is adequate for basic lesson planning, but to create the kind of educational experience deemed desirable by today's company's requires more mutual, collaborative planning time between teachers and administrators parents and community members. People want and deserve to be paid for their time. They are working during their own family time, time that is valuable to them. Teachers leave their own children to provide enriching experiences for other people's children regularly. Yet there is constantly criticism of educational staff who have summers off and are paid too much.

Reexamination of the opening lines in Terry's Article, "Schools that Think," the answer seems to shriek at all daring to examine this current dilemma:

Everyone agrees: Education is essential for the future of the new economy. Everyone agrees: The public education system needs reform. No one agrees on how to do it. (Terry, p. 304)

Money. It is the root of all evil and the only way that educational reform can be fairly and appropriately provided to all of our nation's schools for provision of a free, fair and appropriate education. Our laws require this to happen. Our laws prevent this from being a reality. This is the sad state of affairs for our nation's children.

In my opinion, Fast Company should consider exploration into the area of funding for education. Proper funding in school districts would eliminate many of the educational issues faced by our nations schools. "Schools that Think" could become a reality for all our children, not just a few, if there was equal access to funding.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2000

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