I read too much. Perhaps that is why I'm such a malcontent and can never hold a job for more than a few years. But no matter where I teach, I remain a creature of habit, and I get up before 6 every morning to feed my addiction by going to Tim Horton's, where I read the news. I feel safe and warm in this place, amid the gurgle and splat and earthy smell of coffee dispensing. And I think my students like that I smell like doughnuts!
By 7:30 I'm at the high school, looking out the window at the ponderous buses as they deliver in slow motion these kids who are awake far too early according to their natural biological clocks. Nonetheless, they straggle in, grope at their locker combinations, grab their books and shuffle off to homeroom.
Here is the beginning of the progression that haunts me -- a day in the life of a teacher who always feels on the outside looking in, always incredulous as to what I read in the news versus what I see happening in the schools.
This morning I read about adult illiteracy. An amazing percentage of people are unable to read the stuff we need to know in a complex society. These grown-ups now regret openly their having been pushed through schools without acquiring the skills needed to act as responsible parents and citizens.
But little has changed in high schools that would help. Our effort to be "inclusive" of slow learners is backfiring terribly. The emphasis in English is still on the "classics" that often are too long and difficult or just don't speak to many of today's youth. Kids are pushed into classes beyond their ability or interest.
Instead of finding the appropriate place for kids, administrators hire "specialists," implement gimmicky writing programs, purchase new computers (that correct mistakes for kids) and endorse the use of Spark Notes (how to not read books or generate original ideas).
I recently read about new efforts to improve student performance on math tests. But what I see is a system that reinvents the wheel over and over again, forcing complex abstract formulas with little practical value on math-challenged kids who end up lacking the arithmetic skills needed to run a small business.
I read, too, that even the most conservative politicians have conceded that there is such a thing as global warming, and that it might be related to fuel emissions. Science prevails over capitalism, I cheer!
But here the whole topic of pollution is confined to one paragraph about man-made poisons in an earth science book. In global studies, the emphasis on advanced Web research and government structure allows little or no time for current events. What is perhaps the most urgent problem regarding our future is largely ignored.
I read that Americans are overweight and unhealthy, largely because of bad food, lack of exercise and too much time spent on computers. But in school, kids get less than two hours a week in the gym. They spend twice that taking computer classes.
I read one article about the need for better nutrition in the schools. I read another one about the subtle advertising techniques used by large companies to influence consumers. But today we are having an "inspirational" assembly in the auditorium to help our kids make the world better by being friendly and reaching out to the misfits who are trying to mess it up. It's sponsored by Pepsi, which enjoys big sales from our vending machines -- which have no juice in them.
And so it goes -- a day in the life. Tomorrow I'll get up and do it all over again.
Pete Howard, a teacher for 25 years, is worried about the future of education.