Is Public Education a Mission Impossible?

Can public education survive as we know it? Our taxpayers seem determined to stop local support. We have school districts in our area that cannot pass levies to operate new buildings mostly funded by state tax money. We have cut back many programs, but yet new mandates keep occurring.

Some people are satisfied with their school programs while others are not, so they are moving to private or charter schools. Does all of this cause us to lose sight of what our educational system should be doing? Maybe because of all our social problems, a shift in educational programs should place more emphasis on “bending and shaping” children into good, motivated, productive human beings.

Have you ever tried teaching something to one who wants to learn as opposed to one who is not interested, does not want to try and basically has an attitude of refusing to learn?

We are happy with those who have determination and goals, but we also must try to change those who lack motivation and interest. For years we have continually tried but it has become more and more difficult.

We must know our students, their backgrounds, needs, strengths, weaknesses, desires and interests. We must tap all resources to accomplish this task. We must have the knowledge and power of caring about each and every one. The task is awesome. The goal is difficult and far reaching but can be attainable if success is measured in small steps and differs for each child.

All children, of course, can learn something, but not all the same thing at the same time or to the same degree. We must “bend and shape” each child into what they can be and anything they want to be unless physical or brain development hinders that dream. Teachers are not alone in this task; we are often praised or blamed for the outcome of each child, though many internal and external factors affect their outcome.

New brain research has shown us that children who are neglected or abused in the first 100 days of life may have irreversible brain development. Governmental studies, agencies and educational committees are still concerned with test scores being the same for all students. They could be focusing on how to teach, motivate, and work with parents, to form better partnerships with doctors and law enforcement. Success or failure does not just lie with teachers and administrators but rather the entire community. We all contribute to “bending and shaping” the child into becoming an adult whether the end result is positive or negative.

Although research shows us the greatest factor for success in school is a good teacher; that is only one part of the puzzle. What about all the students who do not have a good teacher or great parents and grandparents? Who “bends and shapes” their attitudes, education, social actions and future lives?

The general public has become more critical of our educational systems. Are they justified? Sometimes they are. To mention a few, we find mismanagement of funds, cheating on test scores, abuse of children or pushing students to college for advanced education, which does not relate to society’s needs.

However, this does not happen everywhere and all students should not have to pay the price. Most educators are hard-working, dedicated individuals who have changed lives and helped young adults become good productive members of society. I am always touched when I read letters to the editor thanking a teacher or someone being interviewed giving praise to a former teacher. Administrators and teachers need strong public support and I believe most educators accept their challenge and mission.

We will always have those who will look for the easy way. These people are in government, law enforcement, health care, banking and other businesses – also, in private and charter schools.

Change cannot take place unless people are receptive to it. Children will not learn unless they are open to learning and have some support for what they are attempting. Making good choices is not always easy but we must learn from the bad ones and then modify that incorrect behavior or teaching moment.

It is difficult to get a young person or an adult to develop a passion to achieve. Passion comes not only from the brain but from the heart. We know that when adults or older siblings take time to direct, guide and nourish younger children physically, mentally, socially and morally, we can “bend and shape” them for success. Your mission is to find time to provide positive experiences which “bend and shape” a youngster you know.

– Roger Warren is a retired teacher, counselor and principal from Ohio County Schools and is retired from St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, where he was an administrator. He was principal of Madison Elementary on Wheeling Island for 16 years and was an adjunct professor of education for West Liberty State College.