Sunday, August 19, 2007

Speaking of stuff that make me cynical and frustrated...

Dear Mr. Gravel: With all due respect, please put a sock in it and go away.

From an article summarizing today's so-called "debate" between the Democratic Presidential wannabes:

... Another key issue many of the candidates have differing opinions on is education. Some argued for full day kindergarten and an end to No Child Left Behind legislation.

Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel urged even more sweeping changes to the school system."These teachers want more pay, but they want all summer off. Give me a break. In Japan, they don't take summer off. These kids need to go to school for a full day, not ending at 3:00," Gravel said.

No, give me a break. After twenty-six years in the classroom, I'm used to this kind of crap, which usually comes from someone whose last day in a classroom was the last day she or he spent in school as a student. In other words, someone who has never been a teacher, isn't married to a teacher, isn't friends with any teachers, and doesn't know any teachers personally. But, geez, not from someone who really wants to be President. It still is just so... tiresome. And you know, Mike, all of us who teach really appreciate you perpetuating one of the most damaging anti-teacher stereotypes out there, on national television (not that anyone was watching, mind you).

I shock some people when I tell them that I'd vote for a longer school year. We go 180 days here in New Jersey. I'd make it 220 or 225 in a heartbeat. It wouldn't happen, however, because too many schools would, for example, have to be retro-fitted with air conditioning (Who ever thought it was a good idea to build a school without a.c. in the first place? Would you work in an office with no air on a day when it's 95 degrees outside? Lemme answer that for you: NO!) Lengthening the school year would cost LOTS of money, for all kinds of things. That would mean higher local and state taxes. And the travel and vacation industry lobbyists would use their clout to veto that proposal in one of their heartbeats, as a longer school year for the children of the Garden State would kill the Jersey shore tourism industry overnight. We have to have our priorities, people! So what if the average kid loses about 30% of what she or he learns each year over the summer, which is why it takes me till about Thanksgiving to get my kids ready for the "new stuff" every term? People need to rent those shore houses for $3000 a week. We can't let the casion industry suffer by making summer vacations shorter! We need that casino revenue for important stuff, like... education!

As for the length of the school day, I'd also vote to start later (say, 8:00 am for my middle schoolers) and I'd go till 4:00. Right now, we start teaching at 7:35 and end at 2:00. Of course, the parents would be against that because it would put a dent in activites like school sports, or all those travel or elite sports teams / cheerleading practices / dance classes / sessions with personal trainers or therapists or counselors / homework coaching sessions (yeah, right) and all the other important things that kids do after school now.

Seriously, I want a longer school year. Most teachers I know would, if for no other reason, because - duh! - we'd get paid more. What nincompoops like Mike Gravel always fail to mention when they make these kinds of smack-headed remarks (maybe because they never bothered to find out) is that most teachers only get paid for ten months out of the year. I don't get a paycheck in July or August, Mike. Many young teachers have to work two jobs because of this. I did that when I first broke in, and let me tell you, it was one of the things that made me wonder why I had picked education as a career.

So, Mr. Gravel, in the debates you have left until your money runs out, or until people finally catch on to your act and stop finding you even mildly amusing, do us teachers a big favor. Stand at your little podium, and when the talk turns to education, don't raise your hand, unless you have a question. Because, while there are no stupid questions, Mike, there are really stupid answers.

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