By Rev. Mindi
We checked in over coffee, talking about the start of the year, about what hadn’t been done over the summer. We shared our frustrations about things that were still the same, and celebrated the changes that have been made and places where we saw hope and opportunity.
We weren’t talking about church; we were talking about school.
Over the course of the conversation, as we talked about our admiration for the younger teachers who seemed to be able to adapt and adjust better, who could multitask and understand the differing needs of today’s children, of all abilities, I couldn’t help but think about church and how so many of the conversations we are having in the public education sphere are almost the same conversations we are having in the church world. While a younger age does not guarantee someone is open to change and adaptation, these observations came from parents at this gathering about younger teachers and administrators:
-Technology is seen as a necessity, not a luxury, especially for students with disabilities, and all students benefit from access to technology.
-They use social media as a teaching tool in the classroom, to share the accomplishments of the school with the public, and to connect with parents and families.
-They are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom, even when there are disruptions and distractions.
-They want to know about students’ lives outside of the classroom—culture, family, interests, progress they are making academically and socially.
In contrast, teachers and administrators that are “old school” tend to be:
-Unfamiliar with technology or supports for students with different and unique needs.
-Unfamiliar with social media—even afraid to use it for fear of privacy concerns.
-Using one-size-fits-all models of classroom instruction and behavior expectation.
-Unable to adapt to major changes—want to use same curriculum or method of teaching.
-Struggle with cultures that are different or new to them.
Of course, these are generalizations. Of course, every school is different, every administrator and teacher is different. However, public education in the United States is changing, and these conversations are eerily similar to the conversations I have with my colleagues in ministry.
There are plenty of factors that make a comparison between the church and public school a different one. However, in this conversation with parents, I heard many familiar themes:
-Struggle of an institution stuck in patterns of the past.
-Administrators unable to think outside of the box and try new ideas, or even see the reason for doing something in a different way.
-Teachers not being paid enough to live even near the communities they teach in.
-Not enough resources to go around.
-Access to technology lacking.
-Buildings in dire need of updating, but can’t due to lack of funds.
-Struggle of educating students in a rapidly changing multi-cultural community.
-The number of students on free and reduced lunch rapidly on the rise.
Change “Administrators” to “Administration Board” or whatever your governing body is, change “teachers” to pastors, etc. You get the idea. Our communities are changing with new immigrants and cultures and the number of families at or near the poverty level is on the rise.
What I see that is helpful in this comparison is that change is possible. As part of this group of parents, I am seeing significant change in our school district towards inclusion of students with disabilities. Younger teachers are being hired who are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom. More resources are being invested in technology, including an app for parents to keep up with what is going on at their child’s school and in the district.
At the same time, teacher salaries are low. Teacher turnover is high in the state of Washington, where I live, and more and more teachers are leaving public education altogether. Bonds are not passing at the local level and so buildings are falling into disrepair, and resources are stretched thin. Every year, there are teacher positions that are unfilled by a permanent teacher and instead filled by a substitute, sometimes for the entire year.
The conversation is all too familiar. All too close to home. What can we learn, and what can we do differently?