A tough job

Published 8:47 am Saturday, September 11, 2010

No one gets as frustrated by the failures of public education as this columnist.

Regular stories of ineptitude from the classroom to the central office make me cringe as a taxpayer and business owner whose future employees will be products of the public schools.

Like other observers, I scratch my head when school board members wait until after an employment contract has been renewed to evaluate an administrator, then decide that he or she isn’t cutting the mustard. It happened a few years ago in Franklin when a superintendent lingered on the taxpayer-funded payroll at a six-figure salary for more than a year as a “consultant” — and again recently when a full-time central-office position was created for an ousted Franklin High School principal.

It’s no wonder that the education community has an image problem.

But …

I am also reminded — at this the beginning of a new school year — of the hundreds of area teachers, administrators, support staff and, yes, school board members for whom education is more than a vocation — who have a passion for educating children and who pour their hearts and souls into the process, for modest compensation and little gratitude.

I attended Franklin City Schools’ annual faculty kickoff breakfast a couple of weeks ago, and the commitment by all in the room — from custodians to administrators — to educational excellence was evident and genuine.

To the many who toil in our schools with a heart for creating bright futures for children, I tip my hat.

The job of an educator has changed a lot in the past 30 years — and in few cases for the better. Franklin resident Howie Soucek, a former classroom teacher who left the profession in frustration when he saw where education was headed, documents the problems thoroughly in his book “Notes on Education,” published a couple of years back.

When I attended school in the 1970s and early ’80s, our teachers’ focus was entirely academic. From the opening bell to the closing bell, we learned reading, writing and arithmetic. If so-called “character education” was part of the curriculum then, I don’t remember it. Teachers led by example. Character was learned at home. When we forgot those parental lessons and transgressed during the school day, we were punished — usually twice, by the teacher or principal at school and again at home when our parents found out.

These days, teachers — as if they didn’t have a big enough job already in teaching kids to read and write — have to instill “life skills” in their students in order to have any prayer of creating a classroom environment that is conducive to learning. Consider the awesome challenge of teaching reading, writing, math and morality in a seven-hour school day.

Franklin High School’s dynamic new principal, Rodney Berry, who got rave reviews for his work at J.P. King Middle School last year, spoke to the Rotary Club of Franklin on Friday about his lofty goals for FHS and the many challenges that confront him and his staff.

The need for values education in school is “unfortunate” but necessary, he said, taking in stride the new reality of educating children.

I admire Berry and others in the education community who keep their chin up and soldier on against tall odds. And when news of the latest administrative or classroom blunder makes my blood pressure rise, I take a deep breath, think of the overwhelming majority of educators whose hearts are in the right place, and become a little more forgiving of their failures.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.