Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Working for the Broken Man: Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent spate of universally negative public discourse regarding Albuquerque Public Schools. Looking around the Net, I now see we've gone beyond your simple spate to Las Vegas buffet gluttony on the subject. You can't throw a standardized test without hitting someone's editorial/column/blog about how heinously awful APS is.

As I mentioned yesterday, the big reason for all the negative attention lately is Feudal Prince Marty's idea that the Mayor should appoint APS School Board members instead of having them elected. The resulting opining has generally been of two stripes: 1. "APS is broken and something must be done this minute, and Hell, why not FP Marty's idea"; and 2. "Just about the only thing run as badly as APS is the City of Albuquerque, so where does FP Marty get off saying he should run APS?"

Given the glut of attention, I'm starting to wonder why I should bother bringing my own soap box, but being an actual bona fide APS teacher (who also happens to have a wildly popular blog read by upwards of three to four people per day) I'm feeling somewhat compelled to hop on the box, so to speak. By the way, I can promise that my tirade will neither be as elequent or as long as the one posted by Scott Hale at Duke City Fix yesterday. And that, finally, gets me to my runty little points on the subject.

  • The Albuquerque Public School District is poorly run
  • If you look around the web a bit (or have lived elsewhere) you quickly find that almost every public school district is poorly run
  • Most of us adults went to public schools
  • Those public schools we went to were, in general, poorly run
So my overall response to this latest brouhaha is the same I've had to every other cyclical brouhaha regarding education,: school districts suck. They pretty much always have. So what? As someone with 12+ years of K-12 teaching experience (okay, now I'm dropping the "expert" bomb...sorry for the shrapnel), I can tell you that the importance of school district quality in a child's education isn't 1/1000th as important as the quality of the individual teachers a child sees. And a School Board, elected or appointed, is about 1/100,000th as important.

You can make the same analogy in other "professions". If we had a "Broke-o-Meter", we'd certainly put the U.S. Medical System towards the very top. Most would agree that the Criminal Justice system needs a complete overhaul. The key for users of these systems is to find the individuals who shine despite the systemic problems.

And that reminds me...after ten years I still haven't found a good auto mechanic in this town. The "system" of auto repair has let me down in my time in ABQ, and I think the Mayor should appoint auto mechanics. No, most folks would say I just need to do a better job of asking around to find a good mechanic and avoid my up-to-now technique of just looking for the one closest to my house.

Hey, wait! That's how most folks find their child's teachers. Oh, you knew that already. Let's get serious here.

The key to fixing education isn't "fixing" districts, a Holy Grail-level search that, but finding goood, passionate teachers. And that's doesn't have to be a difficult search. We're out there, and we're finally get paid decent money.

Yes, there are bad teachers, burnouts, incompetents, whack-jobs who use their classrooms for sex and snorting crystal meth. Just as there are bad doctors, lawyers and auto mechanics. And I'm sorry we seem to only hear about the bad teachers, and bad test scores (subject of another blog entry, another time), and bad, bad districts. But you three or four readers of this blog...think back to your own education. Remember those, perhaps few, teachers who really made a difference in your life? Who really cared about you and the subjects they taught?

And you came out okay, didn't you? Even though the school district was crap, the drinking fountain filled with moss and chewing gum, and the chalk was all broken. You survived and are at least thriving enough now to read this silly blog, digest some debate on whether FP Marty should appoint school board members, and maybe you can even do a little Algebra.

It's time I devoted the rest of my free-time before work this morning staring out at the falling snow, but I just want to close by suggesting to everyone whose kids are suffering from bad teachers to be entrepreneurial about it. Don't wait for the "district" to get rid of bad teachers, just as you wouldn't wait for the Better Business Bureau to get rid of that mechanic who put in the wrong transmission for your Dodge Ram 2500 3/4 ton truck a few years back. Talk to your child, talk to the school administration, ask for schedule changes. Those conversations and actions are worth 1,000 hours of attendance at school board meetings and 1,000,000 readings of piddly blog entries like this on the subject of the public schools.


Anonymous said...

Talking to the administration about schedule changes may not be that beneficial. Wading through all of the that to change a certain history class, I know that it is not easy, which is sad. Sorry Mr. Scot, but that also takes many, many hours/frustration.
(Although not quite 1,000)

A 7th period Math Counts Student

Amy said...

Pete's Garage, in my experience, have been very skilled and honest mechanics.