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August 15, 2006 > Editorial: Back to school

Editorial: Back to school

It seems almost impossible that the school break for summer is, for many local school districts, soon coming to a close. How did the summer months move along so quickly? This is one of the mysteries of life, a natural law that each year defies the calendar.

Along with preparations from both sides of the teacher's desk - students stocking up on supplies and educators readying classrooms - many fundamental issues that define our educational system remain unresolved. A "soak the rich" preschool initiative was soundly defeated at the polls, undone by the perception of creating another expensive, poorly prepared and ineffective bureaucracy. Yet most of us would probably agree that preschool preparation can make a huge difference in socialization and achievement in later school years. In the wake of school initiatives, successful and not, a central question remains of why, with a significant number of very bright people studying our educational system, it remains mired in controversial curricula and teaching methods.

This country has determined that it is in our national interest to educate our citizens on a broad range of topics. It is implied that through education, people will be more likely to develop a rational means of making decisions. As we watch world events unfold, much of the turmoil, animosity and pure hatred guiding opinions and political action is fostered through narrow interpretations and blind allegiance to dogma without independent critical thinking. Our educational system is an attempt to create an electorate that will reject radical behavior in favor of balanced and measured actions.

To begin, it is imperative to recognize that education is an extremely political activity. After all, young minds and how they perceive their environment are critical to the mosaic of our future. Perception of self-worth, values and social mores begin at home but may soon be eclipsed or, at the very least, heavily influenced by school interactions. Here children and young adults practice behaviors that will guide them through their lives. Adults who guide them during these years have the major task of forming that perception. While teachers come in all types and stripes, their profession has faced critical challenges in a fast-changing world that has demanded they combine the roles of social director, motivational speaker and educator and many others.

Watching a group of young children approach their elementary schools in the morning is usually a fun experience. Their eager and happy faces are filled with hope and an appetite for learning. Studies which later in life may be perceived as dull and unfulfilling are often approached with exhilaration - an exploration of unlimited ideas of "what might be," unrestricted by thoughts of "what must be." How and why do these enthusiastic beings change so dramatically within our current system? Some even become disruptive to the point of social isolation and removal from the mainstream system.

While blame has been cast in many directions, the fact remains that our "front line" in the process are classroom educators who must serve many masters - administrators, parents, students, state requirements, etc. - while trying to create a balanced, nurturing and inviting learning environment. The wonder is that many of them actually do this and do it well year after year. Compensation is a question for another debate, but the sheer challenge of meeting with a classroom (and in upper grades, changing classes) of kids each day who will debate, challenge and expend energy worthy of nuclear explosives is incredibly exhausting. It is no wonder that many excellent teachers suffer burnout even with the opportunity for periodic relief during summer months and vacation breaks.

The hierarchy of education favors those in post-secondary settings with sabbaticals, lighter teaching duties, assistants and classes of students who have made the choice to attend their class. It may be time to propose a different way of approaching our front line elementary and secondary educators. These people may need a periodic break from the classroom, a chance to interact with the "real world" outside school gates.

What if elementary and secondary teachers were offered the opportunity to work on a sabbatical every tenth year in a local industry setting? Private industry could help fund the cost and create important links to classroom education while teachers would have a chance to recharge their batteries and extend their social and professional world beyond school bells and fences. A sabbatical rotation would enrich the community by integrating mainstream society and schools. This linkage could also engage and focus creative thinking in industry toward educational dilemmas. The tactical challenge of creating this system would be immense, but using this strategy could produce an outcome well worth the effort.

Welcome back educators!

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