I was elated to see the headline relating school attendance with performance the other day. It has been almost 10 years since I was elected to the Borough Assembly. As part of the campaign cycle candidates are invited to sit in front of the Teachers Association and answer questions about candidate positions regarding schools and education.
For one of the questions, I was asked to explain what I felt was the biggest issue facing the school district in the years to come. I responded that its biggest issues weren’t financial; the issues they’ll face are social. Every day, teachers are given 100 percent responsibility over students during the day. They are responsible for their safety, their education and, in some instances, making sure the kids have food to eat. Unfortunately, teachers have zero authority with students. The teachers have no disciplinary authority, they have no authority to make the students do their homework and many of the lunches provided to students are, in part or entirely, thrown away. The schools in this community seem to thrive more as parental involvement increases. As a side note, I did not receive the teachers endorsement largely in part because I do not support a defined benefit pension as opposed to a defined contribution.
The reality is that schools have no obligation to teach children. They only have the obligation to provide an opportunity for education. If a student does not use that opportunity, and the parents of the student do not impose parental authority (because the teachers have none) to reinforce the importance of education, we cannot hold teachers responsible for the students’ missed opportunities. Showing up at school and being ready and willing to learn are the responsibility of the parents and the students. Not the teacher. One cannot win a lottery without buying a ticket.
Attendance and performance should never be taken as “good enough.” My niece once scored 70 percent on a math test. I offered to help her correct it and turn it back in for additional points. She declined the offer because she wasn’t “going to be a doctor or anything.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I told her that, whatever she decided to be when she grew up, 70 percent would not be acceptable as an adult. If she only went to work 70 percent of her scheduled shift, or only washed 70 percent of the dishes, no place she could work would accept 70 percent proficiency. Similarly, if she went to a restaurant and only received 70 percent of what she ordered, or if someone fixed 70 percent of her roof, that’s also unacceptable. The point is that adults (regardless of profession) are not allowed to give, or are willing to accept, 70 percent without consequence. Encourage your kids to do their best, especially when things get difficult.
A friend of mine once complained that his children were required to do homework. He said, “Educators are supposed to be the experts, they have the kids eight hours a day and then I’m supposed to make sure they do even more work when they get home?” I responded that if I went to the doctor for a broken leg that it would take time to heal and then the doctor would probably prescribe physical therapy. If I did not do my physical therapy “homework,” it would be difficult to blame the doctor for my leg not working properly. Parents should pick up where teachers have left off.
I highly encourage all parents to sign up for PowerSchool and, at a minimum, get weekly reports. Ask your children every day, “Where is your homework? Show it to me.” Even if the new math doesn’t make sense to you, at least you could see the answers on the page. You would know some effort was made and that an opportunity to learn wasn’t missed. Encourage them to be good for the teachers, pay attention and ask them to make you proud. And if they tell you they hate school, make sure they know the only thing worse than any grade is having to repeat it.
In a world with so many empty headlines, especially during the heat of an election cycle, thank you to the Daily News-Miner for running one of the most important issues we face on the front page.