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Who, exactly, do we want in the classroom?  Who should be teaching our kids, and who shouldn’t?  If we’re not asking that question as 2022 begins, we’re either asleep or tremendously apathetic.  The answer matters, not only to people with school-age children, but to our ultimate survival as a free nation, because public education was always intended to produce citizens believing in the principles of the Founders, people who could and would live together, produce and prosper.

It’s not too late to save public education, but in much of America, we’re not even fighting the battle.

As regular readers know, I retired from teaching high school English after a quarter century in the classroom at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.  I was, however, a teacher most of my life.  In my early teens, I was a self-taught guitarist, and in those days if you could play, people wanted you to teach them.  I discovered I was good at teaching and liked it.  For whatever reason, I could intuit how to transfer what I knew to others in whatever way they needed to learn it themselves.  People think teaching is easy; anyone can do it.  Real teachers know better.  Think about how relatively few truly excellent teachers you had, gentle readers, and contrast them with those who weren’t.  As in every human endeavor, some people have it, most don’t, and those that don’t envy and try to level those that do.  The well-known Japanese aphorism—the nail that sticks up gets hammered down—applies.

In my first, police, career, I taught in-service classes, taught at a state law enforcement academy, and was a field-training officer, teaching new cops how to be cops. Teaching in the public schools was my second career.

I suppose that’s why I was decidedly old school when I began my second career.  Not only was I well qualified to teach my discipline, I had decades of experience in human nature—arguably my most important asset—writing, and deflecting bureaucrats.  By well-qualified, I mean most states require one to have at least a specific amount of college education in the discipline they’ll be teaching—a major being the standard–which would seem to be one of the few things government requires that makes sense.  Circa 2022, however, with school districts firing unvaccinated teachers and staff, some are actually allowing non-certified—people with no college degree in any discipline—to teach students.

If, however, most of what is being taught is Marxist racism and other political propaganda, experience and education really don’t matter.  Attitude, self-righteousness, absolute faith in one’s political dogma and willingness to deceive the public about what one is “teaching” are of utmost importance.

Among the things I told my kids at the beginning of every school year was I would never get angry.  I would not get red in the face, jump up and down and yell at them.  I would simply tell them what I expected of them, and if they didn’t do it, there would be appropriate consequences.  One doesn’t go nuclear at the first sign of misbehavior.  After that, what’s left?  I was forced to raise my voice only one or two times per year, and then only when the kids were so excited about something it was necessary to get their attention.  The effect on the kids, because they’d never heard me raise my voice, was shocked silence. I immediately dropped my voice to its normal volume and we went on.

This only worked because my principal, a giant of a man, a former NFL player, believed his primary job was to maintain discipline.  Without that, little or no learning could occur.  I’m sure, gentle readers, you’ve read about schools where the inmates run the asylum; I’ve often written about them.  We all need discipline in our lives, and if it’s not taught and enforced in school, life gets very bad, very fast, for society.

That principal was a leader, not an educrat.  He had our backs, and we—those of us who recognized leadership—had his, and as a result, our kids got the best educational opportunity our abilities and resources could provide.

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That’s another important factor: all the world’s best teacher can do is provide the opportunity to learn.  To be sure, good teachers know how to involve and inspire their students.  Their knowledge, affability and self-discipline, their enthusiasm for learning and for their discipline are contagious.  If teachers believe what they’re teaching is important, and act on that belief, every day in every way, most kids are going to want to learn, at least part of the time.  As long as teachers are doing what any professional should be doing, learning is the ultimate responsibility of each child and their parents.

One of the greatest failings of contemporary education is educrats who buy into a “student-centered” approach, which basically puts all the responsibility for learning on teachers and none on students.  In such a school, students are thought to be inherently brilliant, and teachers do not teach, but “facilitate” their brilliance.  Individual work, homework, individual initiative are replaced with group work, which means a few kids do all the work, the rest goof off and get the grades earned by those who do the work.  In such schools, students grade the teachers, and tell teachers what they want to learn and how.

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In other words, people who don’t know what they don’t know are empowered to tell people who do know what they don’t know what they should know.  You can imagine how well that works.

In such schools, there are no due dates for work, teachers don’t dare honestly grade whatever work is turned it, and no one fails.  In fact, the newest trend is to entirely do away with grades.  This does not exactly teach industry and responsibility.

As you might imagine, I was not a facilitator.  In my medium-sized Texas school district, an ever-growing number of educrats wanted to inflict the horrors I’ve just described.  I told them, absent euphemism, I would never be a facilitator, and I would continue to teach as I always had.  I retired just in time.  My principal, tired of fighting losing battles to protect us, and the kids, retired two years earlier.

That’s another important factor: teaching responsibility.  As Covid lockouts have made clear, education is not about cramming data into kid’s hard drives to be retrieved at a later time.  It’s about brain development, building bigger, better brains, making neural connections, which make the brain—the person—more flexible, capable and productive.  A part of this process is socialization.  I’ve always believed a substantial part of the job of any teacher is socializing kids to at least the point others would not try to kill them on sight.  When kids are not required to behave properly, when they’re not required to at least give the appearance of learning, they do not build bigger, better brains.  A year of non-schooling is not a year of non-uploaded data, which can be downloaded at some point in the future.  It’s a year of lost neural connections, which will never be made, at least not in the same ways.

Important too is class time.  In my quarter century in teaching, I saw class time fall from about 55 minutes per class to about 40 minutes per class.  Losing 5 class minutes per day in a year is about a month of actual class time lost.  This is bad on toast because class time is a teacher’s most precious commodity.  Important, that is, for teachers who actually teach their discipline.  Even with 55-minute classes, I never had nearly enough time for all the literature, writing and discussion I should have taught.  The idea of spending even a minute of that time on political indoctrination was not something I contemplated, or dealt with well.  Perhaps all teachers should share that attitude?

Much additional time was lost to state mandates mostly based around mandatory, high-stakes testing, a subject I’ve often discussed. In tested classes, actual months were lost to test drills.   The rest was due to “student-centered” lunacy.  My last few years in teaching were spent fending off that insanity.  If I did things the way educrats wanted, I would spend the first ten minutes of each class—at minimum—letting the kids review my previous performance and telling me what they wanted to learn.  I’d spend the last 15 minutes doing an “exit ticket,” which was them writing something about what they’re learned that day.  Of course, by then, we’d have only about 20 minutes for me to try to teach something, which in an English class is virtually impossible.

I gave the appearance of complying with that idiocy, closed the door when the bell rang, and taught like a professional.  I couldn’t have survived another year.  Losing half a year to Covid sealed the deal for my retirement.

There were, of course, an unending blizzard of assemblies, state and district mandated supplemental topics, and other distractions that stole class time.  Everybody and their dog loves to have captive audiences of America’s most voracious consumers, and schools, more and more, are happy to accommodate them—to the detriment of learning.

I took from 4-6 grades each week, and not nonsense grades, real assignments requiring real work.  To do that, we had assignments that could be completed in a single class, others that would be due in a few days and others we worked on for weeks.  It was a rare day I wasn’t taking at least one grade, and I entered those grades in my computer grade book—accessible at any time 24/7 by individual parents—every day.

If a student turned in a paper on Monday, I handed it back to them, graded, on Tuesday.  I was the only teacher in my school that did that—handing papers back the next day.  There were some exceptions for larger assignments like research papers, but even then I was mostly able to keep to that schedule.  I always believed if the kids cared enough to do the work on time, it was my responsibility to get it back to them immediately, not only marking what they did wrong, but suggesting improvements and always encouraging them.  To that end, they could redo work for additional credit.  If they were willing to work hard, they could theoretically earn 100% on every assignment, greatly improving their abilities, building bigger, better brains, in the process.  Only about 15% did, but the opportunity was always there.

All assignments were posted a week in advance on my district website, and also posted on a board in the classroom.  Parents and students could know exactly what was being taught from day to day with a mouse click.  I also sent out a monthly parent newsletter explaining exactly what we’d study, but in broader strokes.

Every parent concern or inquiry–there were few because I was so open–was immediately answered to the full satisfaction of the parent.  I constantly invited parents to visit the classroom at any time.  None ever did.

I could go on and on about these issues, but I thought you might like to have something of a baseline on which to judge your teachers and your schools.  To whatever degree I was a model for teaching, I leave to you to decide.  I would ask only that you consider, if teachers—and schools–don’t do as I’ve described, what’s left?