Lesson plans for our schools

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 31, 2006

We asked readers for your thoughts on ways to boost achievement in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, which has failed to make adequate yearly progress for the fourth consecutive year. Here are some of your responses.

* * *

This issue is not just about our schools. It is about parenting skills, the people we put into the schools to teach our students, those we elect to be our voice in government and so on down the line.

As a teacher I can spend relentless hours planning meaningful lessons and assignments, but if parents don’t back me up, it is all in vain. In today’s world, students and parents think that learning should stop at the door when the bell rings. They also think that no work should be required of their children at home in response to that learning.

Teaching to the test is not the answer to this problem. Anyone can learn to mark A, B, C or D without even reading the question and pass the test.

We have to decide what it is that we want of our young people. Do we want true problem-solvers, leaders, and team-players; or do we want students who can bubble in a circle correctly? It is true that we have stooped as a nation to allowing our children’s entire assessment to become based upon one test on one day; and that in itself is sad. This comes at a time when colleges are saying, “Test scores are going to be the last piece of information we consider in accepting students because we realize that leadership is most important.” Doesn’t that seem a bit contradictory?

As for a lesson plan to excellence, I would offer the following words of advice:

To the parents:

Quit running interference for your children for everything they fail to do in the classroom.

Be a support for your child, not an excuse.

Encourage them to excel in academics instead of always putting athletics first.

Make them accountable!

Be accountable yourself and be involved at the school.

To the teachers:

Involve the parents and expect them to do their part. (Nag them if necessary.)

Expect students to reach for the top, not stop in the middle.

Do not make excuses for students; make believers out of them.

Teach them to succeed for life, not just for the test.

Be a professional!

To the schools:

Back up the teachers, cheer for the students and push parents to do their part.

Hire, train and retain only those trained in education methods to teach our students.

Put rules back in the schools and follow through with tough love for those who don’t follow them.

Quit making excuses for those who struggle. Find a program that works, expect them to get with the program and they will.

Make classroom grades count, too! End of Grade tests can not be the “be all end all” of schooling.

Be a professional!

To the public:

Ask how you can help and not be a constant complainer. If you are not willing to help, don’t gripe!

Be sure when you look at this situation that you look beyond your immediate areas; look all the way to the elected officials.

Consider that this is about one test score and the diverse populations of our schools, not about the overall learning of your child.

Do not be too quick to pass judgment until you have walked in another’s shoes.

— Shirley Disseler


* * *

Our school board seems more intent upon building a legacy of buildings rather than a legacy of young people who can excel.

There is an lot “right” about our schools. We have the finest teachers to be found anywhere. Every teacher I have met is well-educated and genuinely concerned about each of his/her students. There is a real desire to see students achieve success, becoming well-rounded citizens of our county and country.

First, let’s all admit that “differentiated instruction” fails horribly. Its roots are the old failed ideals of Marx and Hegel, which punish achievement and exalt mediocrity. Children are not dumb but ignorant, needing to be taught. At the same time, all children do not learn in the same way, as psychological tests have proven countless times. When we put children with different learning “styles” into the same classroom, we are creating a nightmare for the teacher — a situation which makes differences really stand out. It’s no wonder that some children begin to think of themselves as “dumb” or “smart.” When we take children out of that classroom for “special education,” we only reinforce the thought already in their minds.

Let’s restructure our classrooms around the test scores (remember that test scores only prove the ability or lack thereof of an individual to take a test). A teacher with all students who test lower can have the freedom to help these students discover their own methods of learning and use them to achieve success in school and life. Once a student realizes his learning style, he can apply it to a vast number of areas. After elementary school, students can be reintegrated successfully because each one knows his strengths and how to improve his weaknesses.

Second, let’s restore discipline to the lowest practical level. Teachers should be free to reward behavior appropriately, whether positive or negative, without fear of reprisals. Parents should then reinforce that reward at home.

Third, let’s reduce the amount of documentation required of teachers. The large amount of required paperwork reduces time needed for planning and preparation.

— Bob Houck

Mt. Ulla

* * *

As the SIMS (student information) manager at Salisbury High School, one of my jobs is to keep attendance records. I make phone calls daily to parents/guardians to discuss habitual tardiness and absences from school. We send countless letters to families of truant children. We submit their names to Juvenile Services when they hit 10 unlawful absences and are below the age of 16 years. Then we wait for the courts to do their part. While we wait, the students still do not come to school.

The number of students that I currently have with double-digit absences for the school year thus far is appalling. If students do not come to school, how can they learn? The answer to this question is that they cannot. If the parents don’t help us by getting their child to school and the courts keep putting these cases on the back burner, what are we to do — go drag them out of bed ourselves? I think not.

The majority of these students have had attendance problems since middle school, some since elementary school. The number of absences they bring with them from the eighth grade makes one wonder why we even have an attendance policy if we are not going to enforce it. The students get used to the idea that it doesn’t matter whether or not they go to school because they keep getting promoted until they are finally at the last stop, high school. Then we have to try and break these bad habits. Well any of us with any sort of habit knows how hard they are to break.

I am very proud to be a part of Salisbury High and I know that here we do our best to make our kids successful. All we ask is for the parents to step up and help.

— Vickey St. Lawrence


* * *

I am appalled and dismayed that any member of a Rowan County board would profess themselves to be “flabbergasted” and have “no hint” of the poor standings of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools. With all due respect, reluctantly, I would tag that thinking delusional and the speaker in denial.

Any parent (including myself) who has experienced educating their child through the R-S school system is well-familiar with our schools’ ratings and overall poor performance in numerous areas.

Some schools do better than others — this is fact, not to be viewed as a contest among regions. Regrettably, we must butt heads daily with the challenges of getting our children educated from kindergarten to — with great hope and many prayers — graduation. Why does it have to be so difficult?

The ranking of our schools is only part of the continuing ripple from a stone casually tossed in the “waters” that make up our school system. How can it be expected for many of our students to excel? The commitment to the tree of knowledge has many branches — students, parents, teachers, county officials and the state/federal regulatory bodies. All it takes is one tossed “stone” to set off a reaction: lack of money, lack of student (or parent) interest or ability, lack of programs or follow-up, poor teacher performance; the list seems to be endless.

How can our officials claim to be unaware? Totally preposterous, and insulting to our intelligence — and, sadly, doomed to continue, until we focus less on the numbers going to and from Raleigh, and focus more on the classroom and its dynamics. It should be our great shame that we have such a high drop-out rate and that our 16-19-year-olds are considered such a high-risk “demographic group” — these are our children, not statistics to be analyzed and filed in a report.

Programs are only a part of the formula — it comes down to the basic commitment of student and teacher for education to succeed. For the wonderful educators, in the true meaning of the word, we thank you. For the others, please find another profession.

Our children deserve more than they have received.

— Theresa A. Laib


* * *

I am responding to the invitation for response concerning improvements within our school system. The one thing that would improve test scores, academic accomplishments, athletic involvement and even discipline problems is parent involvement.

Those students that do well in school have one or both parents doing something that may make their school a better environment for their children (i.e., they’re active in PTA, Boosters Club, band parents group, etc.).

When the parents actually get involved in the education of their child, a better and more accomplished student is the result. This will work without exception!

— Gene Myers


* * *

Although I am 85 years old, I am still interested in our youths and the direction of their lives.

I believe the proliferation of gangs and the high incidence of low academic scores, particularly among low-income students, has a common thread.

That is low self-esteem, low self-worth and a lack of self-confidence. Not being a child psychologist, my comments may be irrelevant. But my thoughts are that self-confidence and a feeling of self-worth result in ambition. If children grow up in poverty or dysfunctional families, they feel inadequate — of no importance to themselves, their surrounding community and society in general. They cannot see the importance of education and what it will mean to them in the future.

They join gangs to attain prestige.

Their low scores are a sign of futility.

These deficiencies can be and should be addressed, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school. And in the earlier stages, it can be done in less time than it takes to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

— Robert G. Burns


* * *

Sweeping ideas

for success

I have an idea to make teachers work more efficiently. Why don’t we have them attach a brush to one leg and a dust pan to the other? By walking with sweeping motions, they could be cleaning the floors while they plan five or six daily lessons, individualized according to the needs of each student they teach, list state curriculum objectives, correct papers, record scores and progress, gather materials for instruction, write notes to parents, conference with students, fill out a ton of paper work, clean their rooms, update the Web sites, check and respond to e-mail messages, return phone calls, supervise extra-curricular activities, attend staff meetings and in-service training, teach classes, handle discipline, attend PTA meetings, provide programs for PTA meetings, sell magazines and wrapping paper, take up picture money, etc. etc. And naturally, they will need to spend time maintaining physical fitness, absorbing culture in some form, meditating or whatever else it takes to be mentally, physically and emotionally healthy.

Or here’s another idea to improve scores. How about if students pay attention and do their assignments? How about parents withholding electronic games and TV-watching until the students have done homework? How about parents checking daily planners to see if assignments have been done and then signing them? How about making schoolwork a priority?

And on the subject of students, what about the square pegs that can’t seem to fit the round holes? These are not robots. They are individuals with their own layers of unique feelings and abilities. Can’t we make a place for students that try to fit into this nationwide competition but are set up to fail?

Certainly every child can learn, but perhaps not the same things at the same rate. Who set the standard for acceptable progress anyway?

Two last suggestions: staff all schools with the writers of “The Plan,” so that they might demonstrate how to make everyone achieve the same level within the same time frame; or we could get down on our knees and thank those people who value learning and our children so much that they keep teaching.

— Joan Ashley


* * *

Parents, taxpayers, commissioners and school board members, you should be angry! You should be angry that our students’ scores are some of the lowest in the state. You should be angry that our system is not performing at a level that inspires confidence. You should be angry, so angry that you do something about it.

Need some suggestions? Join the PTA and get involved. When the PTA meets, be there. Meet your child’s teachers. Know what your child is doing in school. Check to see if there is homework being given and being turned in. Believe the teacher when he/she tells you that your child’s behavior is affecting his/her learning. Support the teachers and the schools, at all levels. In elementary school, there is hardly room for all of the parents who attend. In high school, on a good night, I may see three parents, a number which is pathetic considering I teach 65-70 young people per day.

It’s easy to believe the community is flabbergasted and outraged by the apparent inadequacies of our school system. It’s easy to complain and to ridicule the teachers for their seeming lack of effort on the part of our children. It’s easy because the only information most people base their opinions on is what they heard from someone else. Very few people take the time to get involved in our schools. It’s easier to blame us, the teachers. Am I only deemed accountable if all of my students pass their VOCATS or EOC exams? Is this truly where all of the accountability lies?

You see, education doesn’t just happen in the classroom. It has to begin at home. It has to be something that is valued and given the time it deserves. Recently, I attended my granddaughter’s birthday party at a local skating rink. During one of the songs, I noticed something odd. Most of the children had their cell phones out, holding them up to the speaker to record a song. Ten-year-old children and younger … carrying cell phones. I fear that more time was spent picking out a color, style and service plan for the cell phone than was ever spent at the child’s school or checking homework.

Want to see improvement in our school system’s rating? Get involved. New courses and revamping the curriculum guide are nice ideas, but the effect they will have on your child’s education is negligible unless you avail yourself and your child of the opportunities they represent.

No, throwing money at things doesn’t fix the problem; government spending is proof positive. However, complaining hasn’t really ever done much either, has it?

It should be as easy to get involved as it is to complain. What greater motivator could there be than the suspected wrongdoing of our youth?

We are teaching the curriculum. We are offering the opportunities. What are you doing to help your children?

— Jennifer Knox

China Grove

* * *

A year ago, I tried volunteering at a middle school in Salisbury. I worked primarily with one of the teachers and on occasion helped out other teachers in the sixth grade.

Much to my dismay, while listening to the teachers try to teach, about all I heard from the teachers’ mouths involved discipline. I believe in a 50-minute class, the students were taught for maybe 10 minutes. I could go on and on about what I saw, but I would only be repeating myself when it came to middle schools and high schools.

I also acted as a tutor in the “incorrigible” class. I cannot tell you how many seventh- and eighth-graders could not even read. I had to start them on the so-called “Dick and Jane books” that I read in kindergarten. One day, I went to the classroom to pick up a student and was told by the teacher that the class had acted so horrible that day, no students would be allowed the “privilege” of being tutored. I objected but even the school principal stood behind the teacher’s punishment. I never went back to volunteer at the school.

Back in the “olden days” when I went to school, girls could only wear dresses and skirts and blouses, and boys had to wear a dress shirt and casual pants. This dress code was strictly enforced. After I graduated in 1969, the schools went to no dress code. It was about that time that the discipline problems started.

It is not, and I repeat not, the teacher’s responsibility to have to discipline students who continually disrupt the classroom. Parents are responsible for teaching their own children how to behave properly and show respect for teachers and other students. Teachers’ responsibilities can only go so many ways; teachers should only have to enforce discipline occasionally.

Until all schools enforce a dress code, go back to corporal punishment and make parents accountable for their child’s discipline, our schools will never get anywhere.

— Jennifer J. Doering