Happy Days!

There are really two time periods, a couple of weeks in a row, that are the happiest in most teacher’s lives. When school starts is one of them. Meeting new children, exciting new things to discover together, the sights and smells of the new educational year. Oh, what a joy! (Hold you hand over your heart here and sigh) The second happiest time is the two to three weeks at the end of the year when teacher’s can’t wait to get rid of all their problem children. Forgetful, disrespectful, ungrateful, bunch of worthlless ingrates, summer beckons and the more time they allow them to leave the building the better.
I pulled up to a high school at 10:30 one morning to see a long line of parents and friends picking up students. Today was “independent study day.” In reality it was “let’s go to the lake and party day.” As the school year comes to a close, about three weeks out from the end, you can witness all sorts of imaginative things happening at schools nowhere related to education. It is tradition. It has always been this way. You can’t keep them engaged. Their parents pull them out for an early vacation. They already have all the credits they need to graduate so it is impossible to keep them in the classroom. You can imagine more excuses. Many are very valid.
The average American works 49 weeks a year. That includes vacation, holidays, etc. So 49 weeks is 245 days or, averaging an 8 hour day, 1,960 hours a year.
Students average 180 school days a year. Now as a veteran educator I can tell you that out of that 180 comes, assemblies, plays, special sporting events, outside school rallies, the end of the year “special days,” mandatory fire/tornado/etc. drills, and many other crazy events that in reality remove about 18 to 24 days from the calendar of the average teacher’s class times for any given subject. Some will argue more, some less but let’s just say 20 days are lost in the process. So we then have 160 school days. Let’s say the school is on block scheduling that means that the students are in 90 minute classes, and four of them a day is 360 minutes each day, or a 6 hour work day. Total number of hours a year then becomes 1,080 — or close to 112 days a year LESS THAN the American worker — schools, especially secondary schools, are supposed to be training students to become the American worker. So what we have to do is to decide as a people, what is the purpose of the American Educational System? We were originally an agrarian society so summer, spring break, fall break were necessary and students were out of school in their early teens. Schools changed to meet the needs of the manufacturing age and the bell system was implemented to get students accustom to working on a set timed schedule. Through the mid 50’s to just before the no child legislation was enacted, secondary school’s function was to provide a level of education for students that was considered satisfactory, but the primary function was a social/legal challenge. Social maturity and keeping them “contained” until adulthood at 18, their senior year. School’s function today?

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