Back To School…But For How Long?

By now, just about every school district in America has begun a new school year or at least preparing for a new school year. It’s been over 25 years since I was in school and I can say I’m glad I got out when I did. Every now and again at college, I’d hear someone lament, “It’s not like high school.” But it really made me wonder what school they must have went to that college seemed difficult.

To me, it was a breeze. I didn’t have to take the same stupid classes every day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Despite the horror stories some teachers in high school said, you didn’t get an automatic F for a missplaced comma. And if you just didn’t like the instructor, you could drop out. I also didn’t have to deal with all the politics that was in high school. There was some in college. But it wasn’t as bad. Maybe that’s what people meant when they said it’s not like high school. No one cared who their mommy and daddy was. I remember overhearing some first-year co-eds who dressed nice and must’ve come from a school where they were the Mean Girls clique upset that the same thing wasn’t happening in college.

Hopefully one day, people will learn that not everyone needs to (or should) attend a four-year college of university. But more on that later.

Some states are telling the media that there is a teacher shortage. There is no teacher shortage. There’s a pay shortage in that many educators are being asked to do more work for less money. In Oklahoma, starting pay for a teacher is $31,528 according to ZipRecruiter.com. In my native Georgia, starting teachers can make from $33,628 up to $49,091 while the median is $40,263.

So, if you’re a teacher in Oklahoma and you don’t mind moving 800-1,000 miles east, you can make on average $9,000 more before taxes. But if a teacher decides to stay in Oklahoma, that’s about $606 a week which at 40 hours is $15.15. But we all know teachers do more than 40 hours a week. There’s grading of tests that they can’t do during their planning periods. There’s creating a lesson plan. Then, there’s those meetings they have to attend usually after school with colleagues or administrators.

Teachers also have to deal with up 100-150 students a day on average and that’s about 200-300 angry parents if their child fails a test or gets reprimanded for their behavior. And being liberal with the fact that taxes, social security, health insurance and teacher union dues are taken out, that could be about 30 percent of that $15.15 which boils down to $10.60 an hour. So, that number times 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year comes to $22,048 in take-home.

Okay, they get summers off, but a lot pick up extra jobs. They have to spend their weekends working on grading or even working second jobs and possibly even vacation time going over some tests and term papers. So, yeah, it can be a hard job. At the same time, some of that money has to go into their own classroom with arranging a decor that can get the children motivated. Some teachers actually help their students out with stationary equipment. They have to because we’ve made it impossible for children to fail. If a student fails, then that means the teacher failed.

And I went to school with some students who didn’t care, nor did their parents care. They weren’t the country bumpkin Appalachia hicks, but parents who wanted to make sure they didn’t get in trouble for truancy. My brother went to work as a music class substitute in an Birmingham area middle school after he graduated from Samford University with a bachelor’s. He flat out said the administration would just dump the problem students in his class and he would give students grades as low as 30s, 40s and 50s because the kids just didn’t care.

And the cold hard fact is neither do the adults. This has been an issue that has been ongoing for decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, schools started to shake things up. The old-school teachers, who believed in “Spare the rod; spoil the child” were finally retiring. But schools were still preparing students for manufacturing and factory jobs that no longer existed. You can sense the educators weren’t prepared for what would happen.

When I started high school in 1993, the school district changed up the middle school by focusing on block schedules of 90 minutes. This meant they would combine certain subjects to keep middle schoolers from having to switch out from room to room every 50 minutes or so. This backfired from some of the students as they said they were social studies teachers trying to teach English grammar and literature and vice versa.

And of course, there was issues about testing. I remember my eighth grade year, we took a standardized test but the results weren’t good for me. I couldn’t believe it, until I learned other students who were usually the Grade-A students also got lower than usual results. They actually had sent it away to be retested at least one more time. But the results were the same. It’s been almost 30 years and I don’t remember a single question but I’m not surprised by those results. I hated those tests.

Yet, I still made mostly As and a few Bs every now and again. What does a test really matter to the students? They put them in a certain class, but some times that doesn’t work. They tried to make my brother take calculus his senior year. He refused but after a few weeks, they realized he wasn’t getting it. He wasn’t a math person. He had done the three years required by the state. He was able to get out.

They changed that up by the time I got to be a senior. They created this bullshit class called “Senior Math” and all it was was just a rehash of Algrebra mostly. And the administration wasn’t giving us an inch on whether or not the state said we only needed three years. The class was so pathetic that the teacher didn’t even care much about it, usually just writing down page numbers and problems on the whiteboard as part of our tests.

The school administration wanted to pat itself on the back by saying it had forced many college prepatory students to take four years of math. It would only get worse because schools never have the best interests in their work. They should be working for the students. But most public education is centered around what’s best for the administrations.

Research shows that school starts too early for some students at a certain age, but most schools start around 8 a.m. Research has shown that seven hours a day is too much for some students at certain ages, but we still keep them in school until around 3 p.m. It’s because we’re still stuck on the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule for the parents. Yet, I think it would be very difficult to get teachers to adhere to a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule or even 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., especially if they have kids who have to be at school by 8 a.m.

And a lot of parents don’t have the same schedules their parents or grandparents had when they were growing up. I remember one time I had to be at the high school in Wagoner High School around 8:30 a.m. and I was standing behind a co-ed student and her mother who was explaining to the secretary why she was late. She’s a nurse on the night shift and something happened and she didn’t get back in time to give her daughter a ride to the school. And the bus routes done come out to their house.

Less than three years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic shut down all public education in America. The fact that we didn’t have a contigency plan for how this would affect education shows you how much people don’t care about it. Worse, we had Betty DeVos as the Secretary of Education at the federal level. That’s like putting Fredo in charge of the Corleone Family. But as the spring and summer of 2020 left many bodies in their wake, many states where Republicans were (and are still) in control pushed to reopen schools as parents demanded no one wear masks. This only prolonged the pandemic into 2021 and it’s still ongoing.

Thankfully, we got DeVos out. But the damage has already been done. Schools now are more political than ever. But it didn’t start with DeVos nor Donald Trump. George W. Bush made the biggest mistake in his first term when he pushed No Child Left Behind in education. This was a disaster in so many ways, because it pushed the notion that all students are capable of learning and should be taught at the same pace.

By the turn of the 21st Century, many vo-tech classes were being phased out at the smaller school districts. Shop class or auto class got the stigmata of being the class for the ignorant people. That’s not really the case. Vo-Tech is important. We need to push for more students to get involved with Vo-Tech and go on to attend extra training and studies at technical colleges. Calling them “trade schools” is a slur. My eldest step-grandson did wonderful in school because the district had a good vo-tech program. It got him and other students interested and he was able to take classes at Tulsa Tech.

And most students realize that college isn’t for them so they’re not going into massive debt with student loans to go one year or two at a college and flunk out. I was surprised when I started college at Georgia Southern University how many students were taking remedial math or remedial English.

But as we decided to make Driver’s Ed mostly a summer course to help with insurance, this along with no auto class has hurt some students. While most districts phased out home economics, and they probably needed to, there’s a push now by both liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans to have classes focused on money management and finances.

I’ve even heard some people say we need to start teaching American Sign Language and I agree. There’s nothing wrong with people learning how to communicate with deaf people especially since a lot of them can’t read lips. Boomers freak out because they’re not teaching cursive hand-writing but don’t realize they stopped teaching much social studies as well. You don’t need a course to teach someone to write an E as a backwards 3. The reason we’re not teaching people about government and civics is why a lot of people still think Trump is the President.

But NCLB was a disaster because it put a re-inforcement on standardized testing. When I was covering education, that was all I heard about. Will this band trip affect testing? That debate trip won’t interfere with testing. And this is why cursive isn’t taught in schools anymore, Boomers. This is why people thought Trump has the authority to arrest whoever he wants. It also sucked all the life out of education.

Teachers weren’t allowed to be creative anymore. They just assigned more work, at home and in the classroom. My oldest niece was going to high school when NCLB went into effect and she had homework and projects in every single class every day. It became about busy work. Students had to do more homework to turn in that teachers graded in school while the students were working on assignments. In 2013, a Duncanville, Texas student Jeff Bliss went viral when he criticized his teacher for just passing out packets of busy work for the students to do rather than “engage” them. It reminds me of that scene in Teachers where Royal Dano has his students do work as he reads the paper. And their desk are turned away from his. That was supposed to be satire but it became a reality.

But in many schools, the teachers hands were tied. They couldn’t “enage” students because it would interfere with testing. Thankfully, NCLB is gone but I think Covid and the difficulties with online teaching made some educators re-evaluate what they wanted to do. A lot of teachers had to step up and put together a totally different plan in no time to end out the 2019-2020 school year. But no one cared as when school started back they began to spit (sometimes literally) in the educator’s faces.

Mask mandates are a pipeline to tyranny, they said. Telling people to wash their hands is infringing on their rights, they said. And many crazy parents are terrorizing school board members and teachers at meetings. I don’t blame them for getting jobs elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this has created an issue. Should the teachers leave a district forcing the administrators to hire unqualified replacements? This will also cause problems with the other educators who stay as they have to help pick up the slack. Or should educators put up and shut up?

Politicians, especially conservatives, are hoping they put up and shut up? In 2018, many educators pushed back against the pay and benefits. It happened here in Oklahoma with a state rep. Kevin McDugle, a Republican, said he didn’t like the way the teachers were acting. Unfortunately, the state elected Kevin Stitt as governor which further hurt education in Oklahoma. But that’s an entirely different subject altogether.

Educators should get more pay and benefits espcially if they’ve been on the job for many years. They should be making more than $15 an hour. The probem is that no one wants to fund education. Oklahoma started the lottery in 2005 to help education but it actually just replaced funds they took out to use elsewhere. Also, there are too many districts with smaller number of enrollments but superintendents getting six-figure salaries. Where I go vote now used to be attached to a school that had less than 50 students enrolled in grades K-8. Yet, they had a principal, assistant principal, and superintendent…for less than 50 students.

And several of the superintendents are working on three or four year contracts, which means they can screw up and be replaced as the district still has to pay off their contracts. That’s what happened in one of the school district my house is in. They didn’t have enough money to pay the teachers to pay off the superintendent’s high six-figure salary for the extra year or two. So, the teachers had to file a friendly suit lawsuit. The judge ruled in their favor. He had to. And he said the taxpayers will pay more in their property taxes. It happens.

This brings me to another problem I have with using propety taxes on schools. Many states allow for those of a certain age to opt out. It’s usually someone who is at least 62-years-old. And most of these people have nice homes with a high assessment. Yet, they can opt out because they don’t have any kids in the system. Mind you, a lot of people paid property taxes for their children to go to school.

It’s a system in which we don’t have any easy answers because we’ve allowed it to get out of control so damn fast for so damn long. It would be nice if we could start fresh but this is going to probably take the rest of this decade and the next to remedy that’s if we can keep people in office still passionate about public education. But seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled we can use public funds on private schools, the issue might take longer.

No wonder Millennials and Gen Xers aren’t having kids. Who wants to send them to a school system like the one we have?

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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