Taking responsibility for our school system
By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
We hear plenty of reasons and excuses for the perceived failure of America’s schools. The media routinely relays stories of shrinking budgets, battling school boards, principals and teachers acting irresponsibly, absentee students or others toting weapons, and parents failing their children. Parents blame teachers, teachers blame administrators, administrators blame politicians, and politicians blame each other. Into this toxic culture our children are thrown.
Despite this, most students respond beautifully, providing an example from which we can all learn a key lesson – take responsibility for yourself! Every citizen has a role to play. Adults need to be role models, taking proactive leadership roles in education. That said, I would like to offer a few common sense solutions to the problems that plague today’s school systems.
First, the media needs to be celebrating children’s successes rather than reveling in school tragedies and educational failures. In reality, these negative stories are the exception rather than the rule. Everyday education has thousands of social and academic triumphs that go unheralded. Yet the media loves to claim the title of “watchdog” as their raison d’état to parade the negative. Reporters could better serve our community by providing a more balanced approach. Rather than headlining the sensational, how about promoting the positive and focusing on children succeeding for a change?
Governmental agencies have responsibilities as well. The federal government has begun once again to enact sweeping educational reforms. The Race to the Top legislation seeks to hold educators and educational systems to a high standard of accountability. The consequences for failing to meet these goals are severe, and boards of education, city and county councils, and state departments of education all have roles to play in molding this new educational reality. They all share in the responsibility for funding, hiring qualified teachers, providing the tools for learning, and setting educational policy that will directly benefit the students.
Principals are the role models in every school community. The principal’s moral rectitude, ethics, and demeanor should be beyond question. A principal’s character should serve not only to inspire students but also to command the respect of teachers and stakeholders. Additionally, the principal’s leadership is essential in providing a safe and comfortable learning environment. Accomplished principals maintain discipline, reward success, and praise achievement. Principals who fail to do this lose respect and ultimately are unable to be effective leaders.
Parents must be diligent in setting the example for their children. Beyond serving as role models, parents provide the physical and social tools children need to succeed in school and in life. Children crave structure and order. Thus, parents are tasked with home security. Further, parents must instill acceptable social skills, discipline, and attitudes needed for success. These include providing a regular routine, homework assistance, and ongoing encouragement. Every adult can reinforce these by praising children, rewarding excellence, and extolling the merits of education.
Teachers must prepare themselves by continually seeking to improve their practice. They must be lifelong learners. If a teacher does not have the ability or perquisite knowledge to effectively teach, the teacher must be held accountable and steps must be taken to correct the situation. In the classroom, teachers must convey the concept of mutual respect while imparting the knowledge children need to fulfill their dreams. Teaching is a unique profession in that most practitioners are not in education for the love of money but instead for the love of children.
Students have duties as well. Truancy is not an option. Children have to come to school ready to learn. Students must act responsibly and show respect to both teachers and peers. They are required to obey the rules. Failure to do so must have consequences. Lastly, students are tasked with completing their homework, bringing supplies to class, and having a positive academic attitude.
Casting blame is worthless. In my opinion, the refusal to act responsibly is one of the major factors inhibiting the reform and revitalization of our schools today. We all must assume a measure of accountability to insure our children receive the best possible education. As adults, we must work tirelessly on our children’s behalf. Everyone has a job in educating America’s youth. We all need to step up, accept the responsibility, and teach our children well.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher with over 25 years of educational experience. If you have any comments or questions, email Dr. Maxwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.