Letter: Teachers need hands untied to instruct

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2016

Dear editor and community,

Summer is here. School, for most students, is out. Time to play. Unfortunately, we have already “played” too much, and our report card reflects it!

If you go to this web address: http://schoolgrades.georgia.gov/, you can locate the school report cards for each school in every district of the state of Georgia. Type in Troup County in the district name box to access our local schools.

I am writing this letter because of one particular piece of information contained within the full report card of our Troup County elementary schools: the percentage of students in the third grade reading on grade level.

These percentages are so important that I am going to list them here for any who might not take the time to look at the full report. I will list them in order from high to low: Hollis Hand, 68.7 percent; Rosemont, 61.3 percent; Long Cane, 50.6 percent; Hogansville, 47.7 percent; Hillcrest, 44.6 percent; West Point, 44 percent; Callaway, 43.3 percent; Franklin Forest, 39.4 percent; Ethel Kight, 37.6 percent; Whitesville Road, 31.7 percent; and Berta Weathersbee, 13.5 percent.

Does even the highest, 68.7 percent of third graders reading on grade level, show a satisfactory level of success? I would guess that everyone who is reading this letter recognizes 68.7 percent to be a failing grade on any report card! Keep in mind that this is reading level, which is basic to every other academic work!

What on earth has happened to the centuries-old concept that the school’s primary purpose in kindergarten/first grade is to teach children to read? A person who can truly read is also mentally capable of developing the abstract thinking skills enabling him/her to be taught complexities in practically any area, including technological skills. We have the tools to effectively teach all our children to read!

TCSS was using those tools, and producing amazing, even miraculous results across our entire demographic from about 2000 to 2004. That program and those tools were set aside, our teaching of reading went back to being subpar and the results are being seen across the entire school system.

We spend all our time and money, all our discussion, about how we can produce “career ready” graduates, when the plain and simple truth is that you cannot produce a quality product if the materials and process used are inadequate and unproductive. A structure can only be as sound as its foundation!

During the shameful time of our nation when slavery was legal and widely practiced, there was a reason that it was illegal to teach slaves to read. Reading begets thinking, thinking begets independence. Independence begets freedom.

Readers can occupy their minds with things of value instead of using their God-given creative minds to figure out ways of “turning up” a classroom. Children will use their brains, it is our responsibility to teach them to use them for good.

If we continue to fail to teach foundational skills in our earliest grades, no amount of technology, athletic ability or state of the art buildings will be able to pull us out of the black hole of ignorance that we are currently rushing into.

School is also the first place where all children will be gathered into one grouping on a daily basis. In order to learn to love others and obey authority, schools must provide an atmosphere of discipline, respect and love.

As our families and society erodes before our very eyes, our public schools have an opportunity and a requirement to provide such an atmosphere. That atmosphere will never be created by beautiful buildings, nor technology. It comes from the hearts and souls of our teachers.

The 3 percent raise for teachers reported in the newspaper several weeks ago is good news. However, that monetary increase will not attract and hold excellent teachers for our classrooms. Anyone who thinks it will does not understand the heart of a teacher.

Teaching is a calling. God did not intend for just anybody to walk into a classroom and assume the title of teacher. I’m pretty sure I speak for the majority of teachers in Troup County when I say that they love their jobs, love their children and want to go into classrooms with the freedom to teach as God has gifted them to teach.

That cannot happen when all are required to follow the exact same plans and procedures. That cannot happen when they are not allowed to discipline children effectively, that cannot happen when administration is not allowed to stand behind their teachers and defend them as needed when disciplinary methods are valid and required.

Our school board seems to have a favorite statement: “Our hands are tied.” No, their hands are not tied, it is the hands of the teachers that are tied.

We have school systems in the state of Georgia right now which are doing excellent things even as our federal government, and often our state government, holds them to the same rules and regulations. Their teachers still love to teach, and are able to take advantage of and build on the love of learning, which we are stifling at an early age.

We must have open communication. We must have input from all possible sources. We must have respect for the opinions of others. We must look outside what we already know and learn from people and systems who have found effective answers. We must look beyond our own noses!

We have teachers who have spent years in training and practice. Go to the ones who know, and listen to what they have to tell us. Give them the respect they deserve.

Teachers do not want refreshments in the office during education week. They do not want empty words of appreciation at public events. They do not want more professional learning “opportunities” provided by exorbitantly priced consultants who can’t even remember their days in the trenches, if they actually spent time there.

Teachers want to teach. They want time to be able to form relationships with their students and parents. They want to be able to enjoy the profession they were created to excel in. They do not want to be in charge of administration or pencil pushing.

They are desperately looking for an administration and school board who will provide the freedom and respect necessary to produce a job well done, and an excellent product — students who are ready to face the challenges and demands of the future with confidence and intelligence trained in excellence!

With God, all things are possible!

Becky Grubbs