Today’s educator works feverishly to stay on top of a barrage of education reforms and mandates. Pair that with the everyday work of lesson planning, delivering instruction, and grading — it’s a wonder that teachers have energy left for anything else.
It’s all too easy for educators to get bogged down in the morass of day-to-day classroom requirements, focusing only on the most immediate tasks. However, I’m hoping that teachers take the time to step back, see the bigger picture, and refocus their energies on systemic change that will eventually lead to better public school environments for students and staff.
I’m talking about thinking outside the box. In this case, “outside the box” means putting energy and effort into questioning the status quo and changing the political situation. The alternative is burning out by trying to rise to mandates that are deemed “education reform.”
Unless the presidency is up for election, people tend to ignore “politics,” but they miss out on the “political” issues that are impacting our schools the rest of the time. Consider the funding crisis public schools face.
Districts across the state have been feeling the effects of Governor Kasich’s budget cuts for years. These cuts have led to fewer teachers, less course offerings and increased class sizes. Teachers have grumbled about the cuts, but still soldiered on, working harder, spending more time grading and dedicating more of their own resources into their classrooms.
These are only short-term solutions, as teachers cannot sustain this intense effort without burning out. These patches are not the answer.
In the event that a teacher is miraculously able to help students achieve high-test scores, despite huge cuts, the public is led to believe there is no reason to increase funding to bring back more teachers and courses. They think, why give schools more money when students are succeeding with current funding levels?
Levies are “politics.” The Governor’s budget is “politics.” These “political” things have a great impact on our classrooms, yet we too often ignore them and focus only on the most immediate things, like lesson planning and delivering instruction. To sustain our careers and the integrity of public schools, we can’t ignore the politics.
Think outside the box for a moment. Wouldn’t we be better off in the long run if we put some efforts into our local levies and urged the Governor and other legislators to adequately fund public schools? Then, we would have appropriate resources and class sizes for years to come.
But to truly think outside the box, we must also develop positive, trusting relationships with administrators, parents and community members who care about schools as much as we do. From these relationships, grassroots community organizations can form, which can exert political pressure and change people’s negative perceptions about schools.
These organizations are springing up across the country. Education expert Diane Ravitch has founded a national group called the “Network for Public Education.” In February, a group called “Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education” (NEIFPE) hosted a conference that brought together parents teachers and administrators from four states. In Ohio, the group “Strong Schools Strong Communities” is gaining membership and momentum.
Joining groups like these, building community partnerships, will eventually produce better results for students, teachers and public schools. Merely having teachers work harder and harder to comply with state and federal mandates and restrictions is just an express train to burnout and the quality of students’ education is the casualty along the way.
By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association