Monday, September 07, 2009

Obama in the Classroom

Dick and I have spent a combined total of 57 years in the classroom. We understand students and sometimes we can even figure out what makes some of them tick. We're very much aware of the huge drop-out rate which has developed in the past couple of decades, and it's quite alarming.

We have always felt that our country needs to put a higher value on education. Parents should let their children know that their school work is important and that Mom and Dad value their efforts. Many parents encourage their kids every day, and take a real interest in their studies and activities.

However, sometimes over the years we got the feeling that the teachers cared more about the kids' learning than some of the parents did. There were parents who never came to school for conferences, or never communicated with the teacher in any way. Some parents didn't care if their kids got poor grades or didn't hand in assignments. It's no wonder that their students did not place any value on learning.

Some of the kids did not want to put forth any effort at all. A cliche among teachers was that it would be great if we could open the tops of their heads and just pour in the information! We used to spend our weekends trying to think up or research motivational lessons to capture their interest and attention - sometimes every weekend!

The President's speech to schoolchildren, which will be delivered tomorrow, addresses this common concern:

"But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive
parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you
fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those
teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it
takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your
education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself."

Those are fine remarks. The problem is that the kids who really need to listen attentively and to take on some responsibility for their own learning are the kids who won't be listening. They'll be snoozing, texting their friends, or sighing in boredom - unfortunately, that seems to be the attitude of many kids.

My own personal philosophy of education begins with the belief that students need a safe environment in which to physically, emotionally, intellectually, and free from ridicule or discrimination of any kind.

I think this next quote tells us something about Obama's philosophy:

"That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education –
and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as
doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a
book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in
your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or
bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all
kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn."

As a strong supporter of the public schools, I thank President Obama for caring about schools, education, and especially for caring about students, and for letting them know that they are respected and valued.