Eddie Murphy’s new film, “A Thousand Words,” was released on March 9. Judging from the reviews, it will not be a box-office hit, and I will probably not pay a babysitter to watch my kids so my wife and I can go see it. However, the premise of being able to speak only a thousand words before dying, is intriguing. In my daily routine of teaching, spending time with my family and interacting with my colleagues, I am sure I wouldn’t last for more than a few hours. With only a thousand words, I wouldn’t be able to express all the things I want to say to all the people I want to say them to. Even if I cut my conversations to the most minimal interactions, I would still quickly run through my quota of words.
The theme of having many valuable ways to use resources, but far too few resources at hand, is something that educators deal with every day. With state funding cuts and levy failures, programs of study are eliminated, class sizes are increased, and jobs are cut in school districts everywhere. There isn’t enough money allocated for districts to accomplish all their goals. It’s not about “trimming the fat,” since there often is no fat to trim.
With the current funding crisis in mind, it’s hard for me to think about where, specifically, I’d like to see more money allocated for schools, because every facet of public schools is in need of more funding. We could use more teachers, newer computers, improved facilities, more supplies….the list is endless. Despite this long list, if I had to prioritize, there are a few integral areas where I would like schools to invest to help meet the needs of students.
I would start by investing in the guidance office. Many students come to school with emotional burdens that need to be addressed before they can focus on learning. Children are dealing with their parents’ divorces, family money troubles, social issues and substance abuse. Increasingly, the responsibility of dealing with these problems has fallen on schools, which fortunately are filled with many caring people. Unfortunately, guidance counselors, the people who are best trained to offer advice and solutions, are overburdened with handling standardized tests and scheduling students. Elementary schools share counselors between several buildings, so when a student needs guidance, a counselor may not even be on site to talk to the student.
Continuing with the idea of helping students deal with the difficult issues they face in life, I would invest in resources that would help students develop life skills. Many students leave high school with a solid understanding of how to write a good essay for their freshman composition class in college. However, far fewer go off to college knowing how to manage their time and money. Even fewer go off to school with an understanding of what path they should pursue towards earning a degree. They major in business because it “sounds good,” not because it is an area of strength or interest. We can’t assume that parents are going to provide kids with direction. Part of my high school’s mission statement is that we will “…prepare our students for responsible citizenship, lifelong success, and productive employment in a global community.” In order to attain our mission, we must invest in programs that help students acquire life skills.
Not only would I invest in the high school curriculum, I would also invest in the primary grades. I’m not an expert in the elementary-school world, but my wife teaches first grade and my daughter is in first grade, so I get their insights daily. From that knowledge, I would invest in smaller class sizes in kindergarten up to third grade. I realize that class sizes need to be reduced at every level, but it’s most crucial in the early years. When I hear about the wide range of knowledge students have when they enter school, I can’t help but believe the children would be better serviced with a student-to-teacher ratio of 15 to 1 maximum. When there’s a group of kindergarten kids that includes children who can read at a second grade level and students who can’t recognize their name in print, I can’t imagine how hard it is to meet all their educational needs simultaneously. By reducing the number of students per class, each child can get the necessary help and also feel challenged at a time when learning and being in school is new and exciting.
Just as trying to express yourself in only 1,000 words for a lifetime is a nearly impossible task, so is trying to adequately invest in all the crucial programs that schools offer. Hopefully, state and local funding will soon increase, so that, like Eddie Murphy’s movie, we can have a happy resolution.
By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association