And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rambling about School

Our local school board recently stunned the community when it announced some possibilities to reduce costs. Less money for athletics, music, art. Four day work weeks. Mandatory leave without pay for some employees. School consolidation. Not only that, but the superintendent of schools announced he's retiring. Yikes.

If the intent was to stir up discussion, it worked. Hopefully, a solution will be found without causing too much damage to favorite programs. Like math.

As a substitute teacher for both St. Lucie County and the Diocese of West Palm Beach, which has oversight for our local Catholic schools, I see a lot. I see the new schools with shiny equipment. I see the older schools with paint peeling in the hallways. I see evidence of teachers in danger of being buried under paperwork. I also see teachers and aides working with a few students at a time who benefit from extra attention. There's much that could be improved upon, but there's plenty of positives to go around.

The atmosphere of a school is an amazing thing in that it can differ drastically across just one county. I've long heard (and believed) that the principal sets the tone. If a principal is engaged, fair, enthusiastic, kind, personable, competent...if he or she hasn't forgotten what it was like to be in the classroom...if there isn't an us vs. them attitude pitting the administration against the instructors...if children don't pick up on tension in their teachers...if politics are kept to a minimum...if the teachers have the freedom to focus on their students, first and will be a great school. If not, well, it has more challenges than most.

Unfortunately, teachers who excel at teaching sometimes advance their careers by becoming administrators, when their gifts and skill sets are better suited for the classroom than a small, well-appointed office. And a great principal is too often moved to another school to "fix" it, leaving the school behind that had been a showcase for his or her talents.

Teachers get moved around from school to school, grade to grade, even subject to subject. Some teachers view their vocation as a ministry, a calling...and some view teaching as the path of least resistance, something there will always be a need for, job security.

I read some good news tonight, via a Facebook friend. We've been operating under the belief that American students were lagging far behind their international counterparts, but when all the data is factored in, they're not doing so bad after all. This is great news, as in Florida at least, children must prepare for the dreaded FCAT tests as if an imminent overthrow by the Chinese depends on their scores.

I've seen education from a lot of angles: as a student, daughter of a college teacher, a home school superintendent, a home school parent, private school classroom teacher, public and parochial school substitute teacher, sister of a teacher, parent of students, grandparent of students. Various in-laws have served the local school system in various capacities. There are real problems. The benefit of smaller private schools is more discipline and higher standards; the benefit of larger public schools is more programs and opportunity for the most kids.

Our local police department's command staff has to take mandatory unpaid days; perhaps the upper echelon of school administration will do something similar in order to alleviate financial strain. County commissioners may increase taxes. Teachers may have to realize they won't be seeing a raise...or find a better paying county in which to teach.

When we moved to St. Lucie County in 1967, there was a teacher's strike. If it comes to that, the subs don't have to strike too, do they? We don't get paid much, less per hour than the bus drivers, at least at my rate (AA degree). It's rewarding, though, to help a teacher who is off for training or a doctor's appointment or wasn't feeling up to snuff, to meet some of the county's finest kids and quite a few of its more unsavory elements, to be walking down the hall of a school you haven't subbed at in a few weeks and hear, "Hey, Mrs. G!"

There's no "substitute" for such affirmation. (Groannnnn. Sorry about that!)