When it comes to educational politics, one wonders where the mature
adults went to?

The Neshaminy (PA) teachers have been in a long and protracted struggle with the local school board over their contracts. The teachers have worked without a contract for two years, and over the last month the teachers have been “working to contract,” which means they are in the classroom but not available after school or any extra curricular functions. Just this week, the local FOX news station reported that now the teachers will not attend the graduation that will be held this week. All I can say is: Teachers that’s a bad move; shame on you.

Let me be clear: I am about as pro-teacher as they come. For starters, I myself am a teacher (though not at the K-12 level), as is my daughter. For years I was involved with our local public school district, and always spoke up on behalf of teachers’ salaries. I would take on anyone who would say they “only work 9 months out of the year,” because I know how many nights and weekends they put in, not to mention those so-called “summers off” preparing to do the best job they can. I think teachers are grossly undervalued and therefore underpaid in our society. If some salesman can make six figures pushing widgets, a teacher should be remunerated at least the same level. The public scrutiny and degradation that public school teachers have to endure makes me wonder why anyone would go into that profession. Yet, they do and we entrust our children’s learning to their care. To be sure some teachers are incompetent, but they are the vast minority; the bad ones weed themselves out quickly. Most teachers are more than competent, and some are outstanding. Yet all, regardless of competence level, are generally undervalued, under-appreciated and under-paid.

But the teachers in Neshaminy made a big mistake when they decided to boycott graduation. Teaching is not about politics, subjects or even school budgets. Teaching is about students and their learning. Teaching is about relationships. Teaching is about love of student and love of learning. The really good teachers have a way of lighting something inside a kid that gives them a hunger for learning. A fifth grade teacher took one of my children who had been designated as “behind,” and got her excited about books; that daughter is now a teacher. Another child at one time had trouble reading, but a high school English teacher ignited her love of ancient literature; now that child says “Dad, you have to read Beowulf!” Still another child found a love of life embedded in a course on Shakespeare. My wife and I had a part in our children’s education, but so did their teachers.

As a teacher I look forward to graduation because it was a way of seeing the fruit of my labors and to know that in some small way, I had a part in the growth of that student. Teaching isn’t just about imparting information; in fact that is a very small part of teaching, as most information we impart will soon be forgotten or replaced. Teaching is ultimately about is shaping lives and inspiring dreams. Teaching is about helping kids discovering a future, and gaining the confidence to go after that future. So for a teacher, graduation is the capstone, the coup de grace, the finish line of a job well done – for the students, yes; but also the teachers.

Reportedly students were upset that their teachers were not coming to graduation because they wanted to be honored by their presence, but also to thank them. You see, the kids know what the last 12 years of school were about. Regardless of budgets and contracts, it’s about love, and gratitude.

I can only hope that some of the teachers break their own boycott, and show up out of uniform, but show up nonetheless. The kids have earned it, and so have the teachers. After the mortar boards have been thrown up in the air and the diplomas dispensed, then the teachers, parents, and school board can get back to figuring out how to make it possible for kids and teachers to again join forces in this adventure we call learning.

On another note: Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman (in the picture above) has really screwed up West Philadelphia High School. After ignoring pleas by students, teachers and community members not to make WPHS one of her Renaissance schools; and then ignoring the school community council’s request to become a Talent High School in conjunction with John Hopkins University; after creating conditions of uncertainty that forced many teachers to seek employment in other schools; now Dr. Ackerman says its too late for West to have John Hopkins as a partner. Four years ago WPHS was one of the most violent and dangerous schools in the city; today students talk about their love the school, the teachers and the principal , Saliyah Cruz. As a member of the Community Partners of WPHS, I can testify to the vast improvement that has occurred in the school. There is no doubt there is much more that needs to be done before WPHS is a fully functioning school, but there has been momentum, hope and a workable plan. Despite her impressive resume, and her contention that she is all about community involvement, Dr. Ackerman has discouraged the students, teachers and community members by her irresponsible leadership. There is no excuse.

Maybe we ought to let the students take over not only the school, but the system. I’m not sure they could screw it up anymore than it is.