Charles E. Richardson

Flipping the script on education for 2016

How do we flip the educational script for the 2016-17 school year? I’ve got a few suggestions. At the start of each school year there are open houses where parents come to schools and meet their children’s teachers and find out what their bright-eyed children will need, from notebooks to pencils. Nothing wrong with any of that, but I’d like to add another layer. I’d like to go back a bit to move forward a bunch.

There was a time when teachers didn’t have to travel far to know where their students came from. The parents lived next door or around the corner. Our neighborhoods — and our neighbors — were more tightly knit. If we didn’t see each other walking down the street, we saw each other at church or the corner store. We knew everyone who lived around us and generally what they did for a living.

If a child was having a problem in school it was nothing for a teacher to drop by the house or have an informal conversation with the parent while running into them in passing. Guess what? The children knew this, too — and the last thing they wanted was to have the teacher come knocking on their door because all the neighbors would see it, too.

That was a time when teaching was one of the most highly regarded and respected professions around. We all know those days have wilted in the mists of time, but the concepts of that era need to return if we are to accelerate success.

Now that most schools have been in session for about a week and teachers know who is sitting in front of them, here is what I’d like to see. Teachers have a tremendous amount of data on each child in their classrooms. They should know their strengths and weaknesses in every subject, and while time is short, every child should have an individualized instruction plan for whatever subject the teacher is teaching. Here is the part that may be different.

Instead of the parent coming to school, how about the teacher going to the parent? I know you’re thinking, “OK Richardson, what are you trying to do? Some teachers might have 30 or more students.” True, but it’s my bet teachers who attempt to do this will acquire more data during one home visit that will help them teach that child than all the data stuffed away in that student’s folders.

The teachers will find out about that child’s life. How many siblings does he or she have? Is the child the primary caregiver after the mother? Does the child come from a two parent family? What other family members live in the home and what might their influence be on the child? Using a teacher’s powers of observation, they will be able to pick up on little cues, such as, is the home clean? Does the child get enough to eat? What area do they have to study? Does the parent appreciate education? Did you know the little 12-year-old girl has to take care of her elderly grandfather after school each day or that the little boy who sits next to her had his last meal yesterday?

I wish I could tell you this is my brilliant idea, but it’s not. Educators all over the state are already doing this, some right here in Middle Georgia. Dr. Allene Magill, executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, where I serve on the foundation board says, educators have to, “Know your who.” Who are you teaching? Where do they live? What issues do they face that could be getting in the way of their education? And you can’t always know your who if you expect the keeper of your who to come to you.

There are some school systems that house social service agencies from DFACS to health clinics in schools so that the facilities can seen as one-stop shops. The partnership between Bibb schools and Boys & Girls Clubs is but one example.

Some people think school systems ought to go back to just teaching readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic, but they don’t realize the world has flipped. Schools, and the education they can deliver, remain the one sure source of light in an otherwise dark world.