Saturday, April 20, 2013

Teachers as Parents -- Extended NJ Editorial

As a California resident, a state with high taxes, higher unemployment, and the height of waste and spending, I look outside of my state politics for leadership and accomplishment. In addition to leaders like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has implemented fiscal responsibility and educational reform beyond anything that my state legislators or leaders have even attempted in the last three years.

Christie stood up to the teachers unions. He tried to amend the tenure laws. He is pressing for a state-wide voucher program. His latest effort commanded enough respect with me, that I wrote a letter to the editor to compliment his resolve. Interestingly enough, the editors noted that I am a former teacher, which qualifies my comments on public school choice.

Then I read forty-year teacher-veteran Frank Breslin’s editorial (“Schools have become triage centers”, April 14).

Unfortunately, Breslin reserved this most damning indictment of the failing education culture towards the end of his editorial. Still, he gets an “A+” for exposing this reality:

“Today, too many schools have been turned into emergency wards struggling to instill basic standards of civilized conduct, which should already have been taught in the home.”

I embraced his lamentations about the break-down of the family as the source of frustration for teachers who try their best to teach their students more than the test. Teachers face so many challenges in today’s public schools. With more regulations and red tape, with expanding administrative oversight and accountability metrics, teachers are expected to accomplish more for their students with less time, energy, and respect. Now they have to be parents, too, which encompasses psychologist, social worker, nutritionist, along with police officer and security guard.

Despite the numerous negative comments disparaging Breslin’s sobering assessment, I want to rise to his defense. The teacher cannot be the parent for two hundred students. Discipline which must instill self-respect long neglected at home compromises the learning experience for all students. If my teaching credential advisers had informed me that I had to “play parent”, I would have withdrawn.

Voucher programs allow schools to hold parents accountable, not just the other way around. Still, Governor Christie and his colleagues must investigate the conditions which have forced teachers to train students how to behave, not just read and write and do arithmetic. Mr. Breslin’s frustrations are universal, and they must be addressed, too.

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