Something strange happened in my classroom the other day: I taught effectively
That hasn’t always been the case this year.
The scene was this: 10th hour, a lesson on The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. For 50 minutes I had engaged students. I was able to instruct and maintain good order and handle interruptions that occurred. Many students participated in all levels of thinking, some very high levels of thinking with original ideas spilling into the discussion that came out of our analysis of the bit of text we were working with.
Students didn’t mind being challenged. They didn’t complain about how confusing the book was or ask with sour-toned rhetoric, why do we even need to read this book anyway? Ah. It was like the good old days.
What was the difference? Very simple. Two things:
1) Seven students were absent due to field trips. That left the class with only 32 students. In the past, 32 students would have seemed like a huge class to me, as a high school teacher. Now, it is relatively small. Manageable. But when all students are present, all 39, that’s a different story.
2) Another adult was in the room with me. A special education teacher came in to observe how the class went so he could better understand his special student’s needs and concerns. As soon as he came in, students sensing another adult presence suddenly took things more seriously and I think tried to perform better for his benefit.
What’s the lesson here? Smaller class sizes and more teacher-power, more education labor power. They make a difference. Suddenly, I did not spend half my time and most of my energy putting out the behavioral fires. Suddenly, the message could be heard, and when it’s heard, students tend to listen. Having the other adult there gave me reassurance, comfort, and it gave the students a sense of seriousness.
What do I take from this? A reminder that you invest in education, you do not de-invest. You maintain enough funding for public schools to actually hire more teachers, pay them well so that you retain the most experienced teachers while attracting new labor into the profession with a better chance of them staying for the long haul.
You invest in public schools so that you have smaller class sizes so that teachers can put their skills to best use and students will receive the benefits of those skills. And, you invest so that you can hire more people to work in schools—teachers, librarians, administrators, counselors, coaches, trainers, nurses, teacher assistants, translators, safety workers—not fewer workers. What? Public education can be a jobs producer and therefore a stimulus to the economy?
It is sad when we start worrying that it is education that is unbalancing the budget and then cut away from what is arguably the key to future social stability. It is sad when we brag about a balanced budget or a surplus but fail to really look at the price being paid for it. Problem is, we’re paying for it big time, in ways that society does not want to look at.
Education is an industry. It happens to still be a public industry. So, if we want to run it like a business, then do what is necessary to maximize production, not minimize for the sake of profit, or in this case, saving a few bucks.
Because I guarantee you, investment in education will make a profitable return on its investment. We will not subscribe, however, to any kind of trickling down, but rather to the idea of empowerment that comes with strong teachers, strong public schools, and a strong labor community that is well supported and funded.