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January 5, 2012 / Mir Plemmons

Stack ’em deep, teach ’em cheap – NOT!

I have two friends who have taught in a former office space in a high school for 3 years between them. I have another friend who is teaching an advanced class of elementary students (not known for being undistractable, by any stretch of the imagination!) in a *hallway*. Not even a dead end, emergency exit, or blocking only the supply closet. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Hall. Doesn’t that break some fire code??

We are out of space and teachers, and we’re out of money. Or so it appears.

In Washington State, only one duty to provide sufficient funding for a service is enshrined. That’s education of our youth. It is literally our only constitutionally mandated funding. There’s a court case that’s a couple of years old, now, and we’re waiting to hear back from an appeal by the government on the lower court’s ruling that the government is in violation of the state constitution on this.

Now, as for why 40 students doesn’t work: simply put, we’re no longer teaching on an industrial, factory model. We no longer spend our time providing lecture, what we tend to call “sage on a stage” where the teacher talks, the students are silent and they take notes. We no longer have students willing to be silent, nor parents willing to instill that receptive behavior or create a cookie cutter child. We have to engage and inspire a wide assortment of individual personalities and needs, challenging them to work together and deconstruct their own and each others’ assumptions, learning critical thinking and self-advocacy as well as academics.

Maybe 15 of 34 students in a classroom can participate with a minimum of personal oversight. If 6-7 of the others aren’t sufficiently disruptive to interfere with them. Several will not have eaten breakfast – or dinner the night before. Several will have spent some part of the last 24 hours in fear of being beaten up. It doesn’t matter a whole lot by whom, unless it’s a person you should have been able to trust, an authority figure that makes them cynical towards all authority, a verbal and emotional assault that left the student a quivering puddle. Some won’t be able to read the words – for a variety of reasons. Some won’t be able to control impulsive behavior. Some can’t resist sabotaging themselves and each other. Some are off in a separate world, unwilling or unable to engage in the process.

Some of these groups overlap – but don’t assume completely!!

Now, the teacher is expected to address all these students with all these barriers and needs (and far more I didn’t get into with my examples!). The teacher is expected to completely engage each student with conflicting needs simultaneously, and prepare them both to be sensitive individuals and automatons who can successfully pass a multiple-choice mass produced, mass applied test.

Don’t you think this is a bit much to ask? Wouldn’t it be just a little easier with fewer individuals and individual needs to remember and blend in your lessons?

Fund education. Support education. Support teachers who continue to enter and work in a field that is little respected and less paid, where teachers often can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods they teach in – or maybe they teach and live in an unsafe neighborhood, and their own safety issues cloud their living. Support community services, and spirit, and hope.

Support the future. Not cookie cutters. They cut children and those who give so very much to help children become hopeful, competent adults.

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