The local high school’s façade looks clean and colorful after the multi-year earthquake retrofit and the renovations that were partially funded by well-heeled alumni. Of course, what goes on within school walls is much more important than how it looks from the outside.
Last night we went to the open house and visited with our sophomore’s teachers. Although he has average grades, he tries hard, they said, and is curious, polite, and motivated. [We identified ourselves again: were they talking about our student?] One teacher said that some kids are so uninterested in the proceedings that they race through multiple-choice exams, circling answers randomly. Cliques rule, and social interactions in the hallways can be cruel, almost abusive.
Although per-pupil spending in our district is high, there is never enough money at the ground level where the learning occurs. Extra-curricular activities were slashed long ago. Teachers were laid off, and more layoffs are expected this fall. Despite all they have to contend with, the teachers we met were energetic, enthusiastic, and evinced genuine interest in education.
Given the multiple problems they face, the multiple demands we make, and the multiple skills they need to have, the instructors are woefully underpaid. I say this from the perspective of someone who has dealt with many people at various levels in business and the professions; every teacher we met could be making more doing something else. (I’m most certainly not an advocate for mandated job-equivalency compensation.) But we should count our blessings, too; our school isn’t an inner-city school, where the problems are even worse.
We walked over to the gym to talk to the volunteer organizations. One of the leaders of the charitable foundation was a fellow that I had worked with over twenty years ago. I was pleased to see that he’s done well for himself; circumstances were harsh when I last saw him. We’ve both reached the age where we should give something back. The young teachers we met have started already. © 2007 Stephen Yuen