Tuesday, September 10, 2013

School Bells Ring

It's that time of year again -- school forms, notebooks, binder, mechanical pencils, all coming in the door like a massive wave of invitations to Hogwarts.  My little snowflakes are settling in to the school routine.  Our schools are pretty good.  One byproduct of that is the ability to keep a copy of a textbook at home, as there is a classroom set at school.  Yes, two sets of textbooks, or at least one set more than there are classes.  Several of the textbooks are new this year, or new-ish (published within the last few years).  The math books are a little older, apparently numerical models don't go out of style, but in good shape for all the wear.  Or perhaps they aren't used as much as they should be.  Hmmmm.  The science books are more up to date.
Several years ago a woman I know had kids in the Philly schools and the encyclopedias in their school library were over a decade old.  Of course that was before everyone looked everything up on the Internet.  I wonder if that school has a library and librarians anymore.  Both are important to schools.  I was lucky enough to flex my schedule and volunteer in our local elementary school for an hour a week for a few years.  It was impressive to watch the school librarians working with the students.  The younger kids heard stories and picked out books, for the older kids the librarians would, sure, recommend books but also talk about plagiarism and how to avoid it, and how to do research for papers.

My school district has one or more librarian, nurse, and guidance counselor for each school, depending on its size.  The teachers are all trained in their subjects.  Some graduated from the same school system themselves and are back on the other side of the desk.  Many came to teaching as second careers -- the science teacher who used to be a lab researcher, the social studies teacher who used to be a prison guard, some are military veterans.  Their prior work experience gives texture to their teaching.  Some are new young graduates full of enthusiasm.  What they have in common is they all seem to want to be there.  They give every impression of being happy in their jobs.  I'm impressed with the work my kids are asked to do.  It's challenging but it's often presented in an entertaining way.  The teachers are good role models.  They apologize if they get something wrong.  Over half the parents show up on back to school night to get a look at the teachers and hear what is in store for the year.  The halls are painted the desks in good shape.  The rooms are decorated.  One hears of little hallway violence.

My schools are good schools.  The kids in them are good kids, the teachers good teachers.  Everyone family in Pennsylvania is entitled to the same thing.  Every year I read about problems in the Philadelphia schools and I do not understand why this cannot be solved.  Oh, well, yes, paying out nearly $1M to get rid of a superintendent no one seemed to think was doing a good job, that was a waste of money, true.  But overall, why can't the schools function.  Paying teachers less than they can get at other districts, especially when they are at greater physical danger from students, won't get you the best teachers.  Laying off librarians, nurses, and guidance counselors won't help either; neither will closing the school libraries.

As an outsider it doesn't seem to be my place to preach solutions about the Philadelphia schools.  I don't know what what the solutions are.  But as a resident of the suburbs I know that my community's welfare is tied to the city's.  There has be to better way than what we have now.

Recent reading on the subject:

"Why Philadelphia schools will close their doors forever," by Jay McClung, Digital Journal, 9/02/13

"Chaos in the public schools," Tom Ferrick, Axis Philly, 9/08/13

No comments: