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Fix families to fix kids to truly fix education

By GREG BIANCE
Published January 31, 2007


Being a teacher was everything to me. In recent years, however, I have felt on the outside of the mainstream of education.

Earning some prestigious honors was the result of doing good things in my classroom. The tides, though, are changing and I feel the tide is still going out. The real solution is not with the tidal wave trends, but the flats that lie below.

Politics has entered the arena. Principals must enforce new string pulling on the experienced and beginning teachers. They must walk the line between the reality of teaching and the reality of annual contracts. Paychecks can be altered.

Ever since Blueprint 2000 and the A+ plan, education has turned for the worst. I am the guy you want in the classroom, but not under these conditions. They are unacceptable!

The accountability mandates have placed a stranglehold on the people trying to get the job done. School administrators suffer as they place restraints of the teachers on the flats in this tidal pool. The people at the very top just don't get it! The people in the community are not far behind.

There have always been extremes, with 10 percent of the teachers on the top and 10 percent on the bottom. The laws and restrictive mandates had good intentions, but the intent should have been for the 10 percent at the bottom. Past administrators were too weak and blamed unions, but that was not the real problem. The growing apathy in the teaching ranks was created by those who lack the wisdom of the field.

I recently subbed in Marion County and experienced tough student attitudes and apathy. Maybe it was the level of classes I had, but my instinctive "educational sniffer" picked up that student attitudes were that school and learning were not very important. The poorly mannered children in the classes were bold, direct and tried to set the tone of the learning. My body was still warm after teaching as a full-time teacher just last year when I retired from Citrus County. Citrus had similar problems with a little less boldness.

In the biology classes, I wanted to inspire and just teach but the amount of rudeness was personal to me and, yes, it should be. Manners and respect are learned at home and reinforced at school. All adults can enforce these basic standards.

This school had top-notch administrators, and I highly respected these people. They deeply cared about kids and education as much as I did. They were not the problem.

I sensed two major concerns. The students had some unpolished edges and seemed to regard education as a waste of time. It was obvious that the modeling at home was not in support of learning. This is a consistent factor across the nation when parents are too busy, don't monitor or correct behaviors and shirk their real responsibilities as parents. I understand that there were some shy and nice children in every room, but they were dominated by fear and peer pressures from the others in control.

In four days I was not the average sub. I logged close to 60 hours of teaching and prep time. They got my best performances, yet it was not enough.

In order to change mind-sets, schools need a tougher approach and a higher bar. I do not mean FCAT or accountability software bars. This is a joke! I mean tougher expectations of the parents and the kids in regards to manners and the educational directions.

This is the area that politicians and local districts are afraid to tackle. We as an institution are to be neutral, but this is wrong. We are a dying institution and we had better recognize this point.

It is easier to hide behind statistics and software than deal with the real reform needed in education. We can make the numbers dance to justify how wonderful we are doing, but the accomplishment is not in data but in students' developing pride in learning. Give them a fish (FCAT data) you teach nothing; teach them to fish (pride in learning) you fish for life.

The second crutch that hinders learning is Marion County's newfound example of a "Bigger Brother" interfering with good educators living in the trenches. The administrators of this school have great hearts, but the controlling mandates of the district come from archaic technology controlled at the district office as officials sense the pulse through data collection. I heard they are replacing this with another expensive software package that will be better and faster. Frankly, I doubt it. It will continue to slow down the educational process.

As a sub, I didn't want to be burdened by the regulations that challenge full-time teachers. I am a teacher and teaching to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and not the topic is ludicrous. Transition in activities is positive teaching, but pulling out to review disconnected topics is illogical and the kids can see that.

Today's mentality is that lessons are supposed to be relevant to the FCAT test and the data and dollars it brings. Investment in our children's future is our responsibility in society. If you do not play my testing game, then I will not reward you with dollars. It sounds like a bribe. This transition is viewed by students as a disconnection and they see it is about "the test" and so they shut down.

These tough kids are really street smart and they see the "money talks" message in these mandates. Ergo, they shut down and will not play the game.

The new wave is that a perfect educator should be cloned to replicate a perfect teacher from perfect curriculum to yield perfect numbers. Sorry, teaching has too many variables. Controlling an experiment is to eliminate the many variables and control. The problem is we are dealing with human subjects with variables out of our control. So to set up a testing model is unrealistic.

Wisdom in education is diminishing and the community is pointing the fingers at us as if educators created the family units of today. The solution lies in the hands of teachers, parents and students. Period.

We need to face the reality that if parents decide that it is not their job to raise their children and teach respect, then the educators are not responsible and therefore should not be held responsible for a weak foundation to build knowledge upon.

It is not just the school district's fault. The politicians created the laws and they had good intentions, but they do not translate well in the classroom. I believe a point is being missed. We need to be direct and lead the public. We need to be honest with the politicians and we need to loosen the rope on our many good educators.

We are losing the love for teaching. Many of the teachers are just protecting their job security. The truth is that they are tired. They are weary from current mandates that are driving them out or shutting them down. Their senses are dulled, which leads to greater incompetence. The community never hears that perspective from your educators, because all is well in the land of Oz. They put on a happy face, but the vast majority are saddened by the current affairs.

I have been preaching that if we fix the families and their value systems, then we can fix the kids. This is the real solution to this problem.

Since I have plenty of time on my hands now, I would love to speak to people who make a difference in any school district. I am for change and reform, but it looks a bit different from the current model. If we attack the real cancer among us, we have a better chance of getting closer toward a resolution. Perfection is not part of the answer, but attacking the real problem is the only solution.

Greg Biance of Inverness is a former Teacher of the Year in Citrus County. Guest columnists write their views on subjects that they choose, which do not necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.