Sally Rushmore edits the New Teacher Advocate. She formerly taught secondary science and computer applications at a community college.
Let’s celebrate the system of American education—its system of public schools! During American Education Week (Nov. 18-22), it is a great time to remember that the public school system is unique to and foundational for our country. Our founding fathers were adamant that their children and their neighbors’ children all have the opportunity to attend school and learn the basics of reading (by reading the Bible, geography, history, and great literary works), writing (letters, legal documents, and essays), and arithmetic (basically how to keep books for a business). For most children this was accomplished in the time between harvest and planting each year for 6-8 years. This produced citizens who were informed and willing and able to be involved in the commerce and the governance of their communities. On Monday teach a mini-lesson about schools in the late 1700s to kick off American Education Week (or weave it into your teaching about the first Thanksgiving).
Let’s celebrate American Education in all its forms—public schools, charter schools, private schools, parochial schools, home schools, and online schools! How times have changed! Yet, the goal of education remains much the same: help each individual learn the skills necessary to live successfully in community. Students today need 21st century skills, but those skills are simply updated versions of 18th century skills. Yes, there is another 250 years of history to teach, but what is that compared with the centuries of history? Yes, there are so many more books that can be read, but we must still choose those that best fit with our students and help them learn about their world. Yes, students arrive at our schools with fewer skills and less parental involvement, but that gives teachers and paraprofessionals nearly empty vessels to fill with how to live life to its fullest. Invite parents into your classroom and building Tuesday (or some day) for a firsthand look at what their child is expected to know and do throughout the day.
Let’s celebrate the people who create the American Education every day—teachers, education support professionals, substitute teachers, principals and assistant principals, curriculum directors, deans, and superintendents! None of you is expendable. Everyone is necessary every single day. Schools and classrooms are diverse in every aspect, so it truly takes a village of educators to work with all of America’s students every day. You are appreciated. You are valued. Do not listen to the fickle masses who are saying you only teach a few hours a day and get the summer off. Invite them into your classroom on Thursday, Nov. 21 for Educator for a Day. Help them understand your day and week. They’ll be glad to go back to their normal jobs and they’ll be advocates for you and your school instead of detractors. (Any day could be Educator for a Day if Thursday does not work for you or your school.)
Let’s celebrate your class—your unit and lesson plans, your students, your team, your well planned classroom. After all, as a teacher you have spent considerable time planning where each element of your classroom should be placed, whether it is the bean bag chair for free reading or the box of activities you will use next week or the students’ desks and chairs. Many of you are very creative in designing inviting classroom places, hard-working classroom spaces, double-timing storage, and centers even I’d like to use! You have your routines and your students know how your class operates. Yes, they are comfortable and at home. And even more importantly, they want to be there and they want to learn when they walk into your classroom. You keep your team informed and included in the planning process and you all work together to help each student. What other profession has so many things and people to track every single day? Yes, teachers are amazing!
Let’s celebrate American Education Week (Nov. 18-22)—despite the dire predictions and the multitude of initiatives. American Education is successful. American educators work hard and care deeply. Whether preparing for the “new math” of the 1960s or the common core of the 21st century, educators roll up their sleeves, read, go to professional development workshops, and then re-design their lessons based on what they learn and what they know about their own students. Many of you have practically given up your summers to write new units and create new activities for your students. Many of you have paid your own money (which you don’t make nearly enough of for what you do) to go to extra workshops to learn new methods and make your curriculum even better. Most of you stay after school and go in early to prepare, to help students, to meet with team members, and to be ready for the challenges of each day and each student.
You are amazing! You are American Education!