Monday, December 10, 2012

300 more hours of school: THIS! IS! EDUCATION!

...or is it?

I read an article recently about how certain states, including New York, plan to add 300 more hours to the school year as of next year. As a former English teacher, I have a lot of strong feelings about this idea and several questions. This may come off as a bit disorganized; I wrote from my heart and less from my paragraph-organized, can't-bear-to-abbreviate-a-text-message head.

1. What exactly will this 300 hours be used for? Can we use some of it to get recess and gym back for elementary school kids? They desperately need that run-around time to get their energy out and stimulate their litte minds. Can we use some of it to get arts and music and the other "extras" back for middle and high school students? I see from the article that the intention actually is to use that time for those extras, including possible internships, so I suppose I could get on board with that. Look at the jobs of today and consider the ones that don't even exist yet--so many of them require some form of creativity that those "extras" help reinforce. If this 300 hours will consist of more time for testing and test prep, forget it. Our students are being tested to death; no wonder so many of them don't like school. And I can tell you, good teachers can't stand taking time away from learning to prep for these stupid tests.

2. With the teaching workforce getting steadily cut every year, how will adding on time benefit the students or the teachers? Already teachers for the past few years have been asked to "do more with less." The money isn't there is the cry. Somehow, these 300 hours need funding: More supplies, higher utility bills...all right, apparently government funds and grants will help support this. So if we can find money for it, why couldn't government find it to hire back some of that cut workforce? Teachers can only give so much of themselves and their time to the students when they have to deal with six classes of 30.

3. Why do we insist on the One Best Way for all students? On some level, the administration and bureaucracy understand that students learn differently; everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and so teachers must (and do) try to differentiate education so all students are reached. Then they throw these standardized tests at them again, and some students simply don't do well on them because their brains don't work that way. So they get pigeonholed and held back, and the fact that that kid who scored poorly on his math and English is an amazing artist or a gifted engineer or incredibly intuitive with animals doesn't mean anything because there's no room for those talents to blossom. I hope this extra time will help with that.

4. If we add time to the school day, something has to be done about homework. As a teacher, I didn't give homework every night--I tried to give it only if it reinforced something we would cover the next day from the lesson learned that day. I did this partially for the kids and, frankly, partially for myself because the sheer volume of assignments to grade could get pretty overwhelming. If we're putting kids in school for longer each day, let's please give them a break once they get home instead of bombarding them with hours more work. There has to be time to do other activities, to play, to rest, to eat a relaxed meal, to spend time with the family.

The entire American educational system needs a major overhaul, and it's about time that the people making the decisions had some better knowledge of the classroom itself and the students in them. I don't pretend that I have the answers, but when decision are made from on high for a large number of people without consulting those who work with those people, a disconnect occurs. If New York and other states insist on adding these hours, I truly hope they do make those hours enjoyable and educational for the students. I want students (and parents and bureaucracy!) to understand that those two terms are not mutually exclusive. More time spent grinding kids into the ground with testing will not help them enjoy school or learning, nor will it make life-long learners.

What do all of you think? Feel free to disagree; this is, of course, my opinion, and I'm glad to read others' thoughts who give me a different point to consider or add to one of my own.

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