My Fifteen Seconds

Last week I wrote about the crazy line procedure that is a Memphis staple for getting your child into a passing school. I could be generous and say, “good school”, but after what we parents have to do, I think my kids deserve more than fake P.E. and teachers who think fish have eyelids. In most cases, it seems to have degenerated to the point that good means your kid will not likely be jumped by a gang member. Of course, seeing as how they write their own standards, I’m not really all that surprised. At least the district merger got rid of the phasing out grades program.

Test scores tell us that there are less kids reading below their grade level now versus ten years ago. Judging by the every increasing insanity of the Optional School process, it may not be so much that the schools are better, but rather that more and more parents are moving their kids from ineffectual schools to ones that at least are mediocre.

I have high expectations. An excellent school would have physical education more than once a week, and they would play sports rather than watch them on a screen. No, cup-stacking is not a sport and neither is the Wii. Kids would be able to run and play. There’s a place for fancy computers in the scheme of teaching, but there’d be a library overflowing with books of all kinds. It would be standard to teach a foreign, basic computer and typing skills, and the arts would be a core part of education. Teachers would understand that children should not have to be quiet both in class and in their free time. Lunch rooms and playgrounds are loud. Buy earplugs.

Granted, not even the schools I attended boasted all of that, but many had pieces of that mythical excellent school. Even when I was a kid, funding for the arts had dwindled to a trickle and I think some of my playgrounds were older than the teachers.

In reality, such a school is unlikely to rise from the ashes of the Memphis Public School system any time soon. Charter people are coming in and trying to overhaul schools, with mixed reception. I’ve looked at charter schools over the years, but none of them have impressed me. Putting fancy uniforms on students and making them into little tin soldiers that follow rules well may make for good PR pictures, but doesn’t teach the kid how to be anything more.

I had my share of teachers that were there to collect a paycheck and go home. I distinctly recall my seventh grade history teacher chatting with the teacher in the next room while we were supposed to be working. She hated teaching and was working to become a banker. She complained often and didn’t seem to care that kids might hear. I doubt I was the only nosy student. She left the following year. Still, despite the outliers, I received a good education and was well prepared when I went to college. In all honesty, much of the material I covered my freshman year was review, which made the transition from high school to college less daunting.

When I have to re-teach at home what a teacher supposedly taught at school, why are my kids in school? I don’t want a glorified baby-sitter. Some of the fault lies with the policy makers. Changing how a teacher presents a subject does no good if the teacher does understand what they are presenting. In one case of Miss Diva being confused on an assignment, I suspect the teacher had no idea why the lesson was there, let alone how it applied to multiplication.  I always ask, “Why?” It took me a minute, as algebra II was a good eighteen years ago, but that rusty little file cabinet in my brain squeaked open. “Matrices!” I could not for the life of me solve a matrix math problem now without the aid of Google, but just that little spark of memory helped me understand why the book presented it as such and explain it in a way Miss Diva understood. Maybe that teacher had not had that sort of math, or had not done it in so long that she forgot it entirely. The system should help teachers stay up to date, not just on the latest ways to teach to a test, but staying qualified to teach.

Maybe if the Shelby County School system supported the teachers better (less ipads and more training), got rid of the ones that are idiots (eyelids on fish…really?), and regularly expelled the kids that posed threats to the class and the teachers, parents wouldn’t have to jump through hoops just so their kid is safe, let alone educated. It would improve the entire city. Instead of a handful of neighborhoods being desirable, any neighborhood with a school could become a good place to live, because children and families are the cornerstones of a community.

Until then, we parents get to wake long before dawn to stand in frigid temperatures, in order to do nothing more than fill in a scant three or four lines of information. The rest is all online. One would think in this age of computing that the school district could find a way to make the entire process online, at least for those already in the district’s system. Of course, what else can we expect from a system that thinks parking a kid at a computer qualifies as tutoring or hires substitute teachers that tell kids, “God’s gonna get you!” when they misbehave?

I stood outside in freezing wind for an hour and forty-five minutes. The parents around me were all very nice. We huddled together and chatted. You know it’s cold when your smart phone does not respond because your finger is too cold. Also, thank you to the nursing student who loaned me the blanket!

A news anchor with the local Channel 5 news interviewed me. You can click here to watch my fifteen seconds of fame. After the interview, I realized I forgot the year I moved Mr. Smarty Pants from one middle school to another, so I’ve done the idiotic line-a-thon six times.


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