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School: Home, Private, Public...Insider's Take

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By spl241
September 26, 2002

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I rarely post on REHP but read the home vs. public school thread up to here. I'd like to add my $.02 from the vantage point of a 35-year career as a high school teacher. This is year 36....and it's quite likely the last (Come onnnn "R!")

Rather than wander Hell's Half-Acre with this emotional topic, I've selected the following snip to address:

[... public schools... ruined by the fact that the people teaching are the ones at the bottom of their college class, many of whom could do very little to compete in a real workplace.]

As it says somewhere in the Good Book, "I have but one lamp to guide my feet...the lamp of experience." I've had 19 student teachers in my career. I've had 3 4.0's and several with GPA's between 2.6 and 3.0. Almost without exception, the ones with lesser academic credentials were, in my view, the best potential career teachers. In fact, two of the three 4.0's later came back to tell me they had left their jobs permanently.

Meanwhile, the ones "at the bottom of their college class"--or closer to it, at least--possessed "people skills." They had a better lock on how to diffuse anger; how to motivate; how to become pedagogically "magnetized," so to say. They had a much better grasp of the Whole Kid, not just the performance of the kid's gray matter. In talking to some of these Bottom-Of-Classers, they were able to pinpoint what choices they had made which may have affected their GPA's.

Not surprisingly, at least to me, I heard little remorse. They closed their bars. They joined their frats. They hung out in their student unions as their "hawk's perch." They said, in effect, that they wanted the whole college experience and were satisfied with their quid pro quo's, all the while evidencing that this was a period in their lives that, realistically, they probably wouldn't be able to re-visit. I complimented them on their prescience.

I know a teacher who's received the National Honor Society's "outstanding teacher award" 11 times. This person graduated with an exact GPA of 2.56. He indeed saw to it that he got that "whole experience." His fastest growth in the job came in his first few years. He had to read the texts earlier and closer than the students. He had to study grammar diligently since the college he attended was "above" teaching that. He saw quickly that the pie-in-the-sky skull drilling of the Teachers College had little to do with what he saw on a daily basis. Realizing that, he had to come to terms with how to go forward. Forget this 3rd person baloney: I'm describing myself.

Did the carpenter who built my screened patio once break fingers with his hammer? Where did the lawyer who recently amended our will finish in his law class? How many bar exams did he take? How many times in their past did the men who put in my central air misjudge the needed size of ductwork? I have no idea. What I do have is the firm belief that all of them grew in the knowledge of their livelihoods and encountered mistakes in doing so. I reaped the rewards of that growth. Good teachers are no different. The best ones grow...and grow continually.

Finally, that alleged inability to "...compete in a real workplace. Yes, that phrase is up for grabs, but it has to include the word "challenging." Personally, I've never found it lacking, despite the fact that I don't wear work clothes from Big R, dig the grime from under my nails, or stock up on Lava soap. Our city is the home of GM, Dana, and Thomson Consumer Electronics. Are those the "real workplaces?" Or only "different" workplaces? Do those workers receive the unending stimulation and challenge from their fenders, drive shafts, and big-screen picture tubes that I do from teenaged minds? For their sake and sanity, I sure hope so.

Home schooling, private schooling, or public schooling: wherever the job is being done RIGHT, a "real workplace" exists.

Thank you, and I now clamber down from atop my soapbox.


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