By Bob Harris
Last week in this column, I discussed some past problems with schools. This week, I would like to share some suggestions on improving the education system; however, I want to again emphasize that schools, for the most part, do educate and help our children. Yes, there are problems about which I have written, but considering the baggage many children lug to school with them, the schools do a great deal.
I was given some recommendations on improving education by a few elementary school teachers. They said the bureaucracy should be more teacher-friendly. Too often teachers, who have been on their feet all day, are insulted by clerks. I remember one clerk coming out of her office and yelling at a group of teachers waiting to have their college transcripts evaluated so they could receive salary differentials. “You can’t sit down, you have to stand up or we will not help you!” the clerk said. Very degrading for teachers at 4:30 p.m.
Somehow, the requirements to obtain a teaching license are not made clear enough, so when a teacher goes to the Central Board of Education to obtain a license, he or she becomes frustrated. Another teacher I was with didn’t have the correct amount of money on her money order. She had to run to the post office in the municipal building to exchange it. Another didn’t realize she had to have two or three pieces of a certain type of identification. She had to come back the next day. Teachers are turned off before they even reach the classroom.
After getting their licenses, teachers encounter a slew of other obstacles within the education system. For example, they are disgusted when they want something copied and the copier isn’t functioning. I have been saying for decades that companies have to build a basic copier which just makes copies, nothing else, and doesn’t break down easily.
Another dilemma is the need for supplies. One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher was coming to school on a Monday morning with a long paper to be copied and discovering that there was only short paper. Very frustrating. Of course, you can say that one should prepare in advance, but that isn’t always possible, especially if one is very busy during the week and is staying up until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. doing lessons and other paperwork. I used to hide paper for emergencies.
If needed programs could be funded on time, teachers would be able to educate better. I refer to the mentoring program. Mentoring is a way to get experienced teachers, often retired, to help new teachers who have no student-teaching experience. Mentoring would be a bonus to these newcomers, especially since assistant principals, who have to rate new teachers, often don’t have the time to explain the basic procedures. Due to a lack of funding last September, there was no money for mentors until about October. The state, city and Board of Education have to stop playing with the budget and provide money for the mentors and other needed programs the first day of school.
Another stupid funding problem is that only about $25 is allocated for the purchase of a new book; however, books can cost $40 or $50 apiece. That is why there often are not enough books or the books on hand are very old. Some children loose books due to carelessness, fires at home, constant household moves, going into foster care or because they are from a dysfunctional family. A class can have students who loose 10 or 15 books a year. Either the children or the parents have to be held accountable and/or money must be budgeted to buy more books. Social Services provides extra money if needed but probably will not do so if books are lost every year.
The book-buying budget is so tight that students are forbidden to write in workbooks. Only after workbooks have been used for five years can a particular class write in them. Students often waste hours rewriting their workbooks in their notebooks; this is why teachers duplicate so much. Will the city or state budget provide the money? Perhaps our new young City Council members, who are of the civic associations in their communities, can do more.
You can’t keep blaming the failure of the children just on the “bad” teacher but also must look at the “bad” family and at the disruptive children who can prevent a class from learning, especially if the teacher is inexperienced and isn’t getting enough help.
In 1987, the Daily News ran a series of articles describing the “ill of the school system.” Parents, teachers, educators, watchdogs, political leaders and school officials were interviewed. On Oct. 4, 1987 the newspaper published its solutions. Following are its answers to setbacks in education.
Appoint a new chancellor with skills and authority; end tenure for principals; employ better teachers who are well trained; end the Board of Examiners, which takes too long to administer tests; have less politics in our 32 local school boards and appoint the board members; don’t let school workers serve on the local board; make custodians more accountable so they will do more; create imaginative programs; increase the number of guidance counselors; reduce high school class size from 34 to 25; open new high schools with themes; make prekindergarten programs city-wide; open day-care centers in high schools so pregnant students don’t drop out; hire managers to run the school system; reduce the bureaucracy at the central headquarters and streamline it; abolish the Division of School building and set up an agency which can build schools faster. Interesting!
GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK
About six weeks ago, the New York Police Department announced that the Street Crime Unit had been disbanded. This probably is due to the unfortunate shooting of Amadou Diallo by four officers in that force. The unit had been expanded too rapidly because it had been doing such a good job of taking guns off the streets and officials wanted even more guns off the streets.
About three weeks ago, Gloria Aiken-Logan, a grandmother, was shot in the head as she stepped off a bus in Bedford-Stuyvesant after having attended church. She just stepped into shots fired by some people having a dispute. Who is going to be dedicated to taking these guns off the streets?
In other issues, a young teacher I know recently had her rent raised. She decided to buy an apartment so she would have something to show for monthly payments of rent. Good thinking! She has taught six years, has a master’s degree, the required 30 graduate points above the master’s, has filed for all her differentials and is fully state certified. Her salary is such that the bank she went to told her that she qualifies for a loan as a “low income” person. Now isn’t that interesting!