Why does our education system continue to falter here in Kentucky? I do not have the guaranteed end all answer, but I am going to offer a few ideas and reasons as to what I believe some of the problems are. One of our major obstacles is getting the right teachers in place and getting rid of the dead weight that exists. Most teachers I have asked in the last five years on why they chose their profession respond with: What’s not to like, I get weekends off, summers off and do not have to work when it floods or snows. There are the occasional few that respond with more of the answer I like to hear such as they love to work with children and they had someone in their life that really made a difference and they would cherish the opportunity to pass that on. I do understand “good” teachers are underpaid and something needs to be done in that arena to reward them for a job well done, but the teachers that are not cutting it need to be given time to perform better but if they continue to not meet set standards, get rid of them, regardless of their tenure. Most teachers that continue to fail will offer excuses such as bad parenting, lazy kids, under funding, lack of technology or my favorite, there is just not enough time in the day.
I am going to share a story with you on one of my past experiences within the school system some years back. During one of my IEP meetings my wife and I had, concerning our oldest, special needs child, I passed on some information I had seen the night before on a news program. The information being that a child born and educated in Appalachia was 68% more than likely to stay at or below the poverty level their entire life. One of the educators present at the meeting and high ranking within the county I might add, said, “Education has nothing to do with the poverty level here in the area.” I had to think about if I really heard her say this. So I asked amusingly, “Did you just say that out loud?” She then confirmed and made the ignorant statement again, this time emphatically. I looked at others in the meeting and they were stone faced as to be afraid to agree or disagree. My point in sharing this story is that we definitely have the wrong people in quite a few of these prominent positions that affect our children’s education and future.
Children are different and the “one size fits all” approach is a poor one when it comes to education. Teachers need to do a better job of recognizing kid’s abilities and continuing to challenge each child by understanding what drives them. My own personal motivation was competition. I loved competing and from the time I was in 3rd grade at Tomahawk Elementary School, we had teachers that at the end of the day, we would all close our books and have “math races” and “spelling battles”. This was when the teacher would pair off two students of similar intelligence at the chalkboard and give them a mathematics problem or a word to spell and the first to do it correctly would win and get to stay at the chalkboard and take on all challengers. The teacher would first take volunteers, but if no one volunteered, she would pick someone. All the kids enjoyed watching, but it was evident that some were not quite as comfortable as others when they were in front of the class, but no one ever committed suicide or anything because they lost. These competitions continued throughout my fifth grade year at Tomahawk and I always enjoyed them. I asked if these still go on today and was told these types of competitions are frowned upon due to creating low self esteem in students that do not perform as well. Wow, we would rather a child’s feelings not get hurt at a young age and allow them to go through life always being a failure or never want to get better at anything just to save them a little embarrassment in their early years. Most children need to be taught disappointment at a young age, so they strive to not feel that way again. This also helps to shape and create personality and allows them to feel more comfortable in a crowd. Some kids may even find they excel outside of their comfort zone, but if they are never shoved in that direction, there is no chance at expanding on that potential.
There also needs to be more emphasis on real world education as opposed to textbook. Teach children how to make money instead of just count it. Create exercises that help them think outside of the box. Teach them how to interact and communicate well with others. This is definitely an area lacking these days. Most well, formally educated people I deal with on a daily basis such as doctors, hospital administrators and engineers have the personality of a rock and are complete nimrods to deal with. Somewhere along the line if they could have taken advantage of some sort of “Human Interaction 101” class, there would not be near the amount of issues that exist.
In closing, there are numerous reasons our education system is in such shambles here in Appalachia, and there is no one reason anyone can point to that causes it, but I strongly feel I have addressed a few that give us somewhere to start.
I agree and would take it a step further by saying the teachers need to be challenged as well. All things improve through competition. The reality is that there are winners an losers. It makes the winners want to keep winning and the losers to up their game. I also think some optimism needs to be pumped into Appalachia. It’s really easy to let apathy set in when you feel like you can’t get out from under a label. Personally I’m driven by hurdles and pressure has always made me thrive. Must have been something in the Tomahawk water when we went to school there.