New school year presents new challenges

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    Schoolteachers are often criticized by other working stiffs in the community who lament that they also wish they could take “the whole summer off with pay.”
    Well, summer is over and many teachers didn’t get a whole lot of time off. Many of them taught adult education or remedial classes. Some took courses to further their own education. Some even volunteered to clean up the school grounds while the rest of us were grilling steaks on the barbecue.

    Anyhow, school is back in session, and most teachers that I know personally are as excited about the new academic year as a group of kindergarteners. There will be new faces in some administrative offices. There will be plenty of new faces in the classrooms, even though the overall student population in Maine is decreasing.
    When I hear people criticizing teachers, I often ask the question, “Would you teach school for a living?” Most of the time, the answer is “no.” I feel the same way. I was an instructor at an Army Reserve drill sergeant school, but I couldn’t imagine what’s it’s like to stand up in front of a class of third-graders.
    The new school year also means new challenges. Partially because of federal requirements, Maine keeps changing the way it evaluates students. The Maine Educational Assessment or MEA test worked for many years until it was replaced by the New England Common Assessment Program or NECAP.
    But the two methods of testing have one thing in common: school districts with high scores like them, and districts with low scores say that they don’t reflect the quality of education. The biggest challenge for teachers, I would think, would be how to adequately prepare kids for the exams without being accused of “teaching to the test.”
    Then there’s the school rating system implemented by the Maine Department of Education. Even those who support assigning letter grades to schools acknowledge that there are flaws in the assessment.
    Some schools with stellar reputations wound up with failing grades because not enough kids took the test. So, theoretically, if the test were administered during a flu epidemic, half the schools in the state could get an “F.”
    There are neither rewards for high-achieving schools nor penalties for the ones with failing grades. And there’s no guarantee that the system will even be around after next year’s election.
    So the teacher, on the front lines of education, has a lot on their plate. They can’t pick and choose who they’ll teach. A straight “A” student might be in the same classroom with the most disruptive brat in the school.
    They also have to deal with dysfunctional families who don’t enforce weeknight curfews or homework assignments. But when their little darling gets a failing grade, they blame the teacher.
    Clearly, there are some burned-out teachers who should have retired years ago. They hang on because of their salary and benefits. Because of tenure, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.
    Still, the vast majority of our teachers are meeting the challenges of the new school year head-on. They look forward to going to work each morning and meeting new challenges.
    They need our support – and deserve it.
    Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer. His opinions are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of this newspaper. He wasn’t an honor student, either.

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