25 September 2012

To Gladly Teach -- Part 2

Welcome back. Today’s blog post concludes last Friday’s guest post by Miriam Biskin on her years of teaching 8th grade. Although she taught public school, the setting of Part 1 was a rented middle floor of a Catholic school. For Part 2, her class has moved into the city’s only public high school.

The High School

Cohoes High School, Cohoes, N.Y. 
Photo from 1958 Cohoes
 High School yearbook.

This lovely building, atop a hill, was built more or less as an academy, focused on a college-bound population. Now, it would house, not only our 8th grade, but also the 6th and 7th grades, increasing the population tenfold. On the morning of our first assembly, we were greeted by the principal’s, “Welcome sardines.”

I was reassigned to teach five classes in English, two in Reading and one in Spelling. I had no free period and 15 minutes for lunch. Classes were stuffed everywhere, including the locker room with its aura of sneakers, salami and students retrieving forgotten items. Weekly, coal deliveries to the nearby basement window drowned my precious words of wisdom.

The efforts of a few dedicated individuals eventually convinced the town to build a new structure. The old high school became a middle school, and the new building was designed to have everything--except air conditioning, sound-proofing, a swimming pool (perish the thought) and TV monitors for security.

Teachers

Looking back, I’ve always found my colleagues dedicated and capable, pushing their students to achieve. The inconveniences never mattered. In their place were camaraderie and a stubborn dedication to getting the job done. We were Great Depression babies, used to making do, poor without being self conscious of our poverty, grateful for the opportunities we found and treasures we shared, and always trying to make lemonade out of lemons.

Today, life for teachers is not easy as they are caught in a crossfire of criticism from politicians and do-it-yourself experts who have ideas for improving our educational system. A recent Federal grant to a local school included a provision for the employment of a high-salaried person called a Teacher of Excellence--a snide rebuke to the instructors on the job. This Superperson (man or woman) supposedly will cure all ills.

In this age of budget cuts, money could be better spent. “Frivolous” programs like art and music might be reinstituted. Aging schools need rehabilitation as could the school buses which lack seat belts for small children. A better pay scale could attract the young people moving to better-paying jobs.

Money aside, the world’s social problems have moved into schools. As one young teacher remarked, “It’s hard to get an abused child excited about pronouns,” and that child may be exposed to the dangers of alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual diseases, et al. However, today’s instructor learns to cope, trying to instill that love of learning which made us all gladly teach.


Thanks for stopping by. Your comments would be welcome here or via email. I would be happy to relay any comments to the author, Miriam.

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