By Judith Brockway, Principal, New York Mills Elementary, New York Mills, MESPA Western Division President Elect
With Thanksgiving and the giving season just around the corner, I can’t help but feel grateful for the wonderful staff, students, parents, and community that I work with and within. We are a team. We are a school family! We truly rely on each other to help make a difference in the lives of the students that we teach. Without each other, none of that is possible!
Thinking about giving and sharing made me think about a true story that I once heard. Jamie Vollmer, a self-proclaimed critic of public education who also happened to be the keynote speaker at a conference I once attended, shared a true story about himself at that conference and his words were so powerful that I feel compelled to share his message with all of you – some of you may even be familiar with it.
Vollmer was a businessman whose company made “the best blueberry ice cream in America.” Because of his business expertise, he was asked to make recommendations for and speak to staff in schools. He and others in the business community felt that schools should be run like businesses. One day during one of his lectures about “accountability measures” and how schools needed to “reward success and punish failure,” a teacher stood up and quietly asked him what he did when his blueberry shipment didn’t meet his AAA standards. He immediately replied that he “would send them right back!” That brave teacher reminded him that students are not blueberries that can be sent back if they don’t meet our standards. We accept and teach them all just as they are. That is why we are a school, not a business. This teacher changed his life forever with her simple words.
Hundreds of children arrive at our schools each and every day. This mass of diverse and demanding bodies requires constant attention from the moment they arrive, and teachers spend their entire day immersed in the task of teaching their students so that they can meet the standards. From early morning to late afternoon, teachers and all staff run at full tilt. They are prepared and determined every day to make a difference. Our teachers teach more children to higher levels in more subjects in more creative and dynamic ways than at any other time in history.
But we cannot do it alone. We need help! We need our parents and our communities to share in the joys (and heartaches) of raising and educating our next generation of respectful, kind, caring, and responsible citizens.
Vollmer states, and I believe, that a fundamental transformation is continuing to take place in America. The future of everyone is tied to the quality of our schools as never before. No one can accurately predict what jobs will be created in the next 20 years. This shift and others have triggered a dramatic increase in what our students need to know when they graduate. In a single generation we have raised the bar to universal student achievement and for ALL students to be college- and career-ready by the time that they graduate. No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to accomplish this goal until now!
We have tripled the amount of curriculum that our students are expected to learn. There has been an explosion of standardized tests and test preparation. We have expanded early childhood programs and increased opportunities for remediation and enrichment all while trying to support the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of every child who comes through our doors. All the while, failure is just not an option!
I am awed by the rigors of the job and moved by the effort and dedication of the people who teach and support our students every day! Abraham Lincoln once said “Public sentiment is everything. WITH it, nothing can fail; AGAINST it, nothing can succeed.” Parents and the communities within which we all live have the final word regarding our schools and our children’s successes or failures. We continue to need their ongoing understanding, trust, permission and support to be able to help kids succeed in the 21st century.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Give thanks for your parents and the communities that you live in! I know I will!