A “Spirited” Response to Steve Perry’s “What Makes a Good Teacher” piece in Southwest’s Spirit In-Flight Magazine, September 2011

September 10, 2011

It is a timely coincidence that last night we were engaged in a lively conversation about education. Today as I fly from Buffalo to Tampa on a circuitous route to Albuquerque, I am captivated by the articles on education in this month’s Spirit magazine. In Perry’s article, he tells of how at his Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford Connecticut, judged highly successful by its achievements in sending 100% of its graduates to college, his mission is just that. And maybe it’s because it is a school designed to prepare its kids to go to college that I will acknowledge that distinction. However, as our conversation last night illuminated, what are we doing when we press so hard to impress kids about going to college when we might be over-zealous and over-look their aptitude better placed elsewhere?
For example, kids with great math brains…in the adjoining article, America’s Best Teachers compiled by the Spirit editors, there is a teacher cited in Alamagordo, NM who was being directed toward an engineering degree and the post college practice thereof who, during the continuing education process, called a halt to the stream through which the direction of her life had been channeled and said – paraphrased – “wait a minute, I’ve always loved to teach and want to teach it not practice math as an engineer.” As Perry says of teachers “This isn’t the life she chose, it’s the life that chose her.”
The same could and should be said on behalf of each student. The analysis of each student’s potential paired with their interest by educators during the process of the first 12 years should be pairing their aptitude with passion! Students should pursue that which chooses them – not the other way around – especially if it is chosen for them by others.
This brings me to my point that there are many who are NOT destined for college – a math whiz who would rather work with his hands – might be better suited for the trades. We are emphasizing college and negating the value of the trades. As an Interior Designer I work with these talented and very valuable people daily. A good trades person is worth their weight and beyond in the success of any project. We have diminished the value of the trades so severely that young people do not want to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents, mentors or benefactors who not only had the aptitude but set an example and practiced their trades with art and precision, pride and accomplishment. There are good and less so as in all fields – the better are rewarded with the better positions and the better contracts. It only takes examples of workmanship and finished products to see which are which. A well crafted piece or project done to specification or beyond, on time and within budget is valuable on up the ladder of the domino effect. The buyer, the investor, the bank, the end user all recognize the benefits of a job well done -and they should be rewarded accordingly. It’s not always apples to apples. Yet, the low bid might be perfectly well done. But the proof will bear out every time.
I now think of the popular series on the Discovery Channel, Dirty Jobs. Apprentice to these difficult, and unpleasant jobs, Mike Rowe participates in these less than popular but very critical positions to empathize with them and show appreciation for what they do. Turned down by many networks, this program was perhaps too down in the trenches for many of the executives to buy into…but Discovery saw a REAL drama. The drama of real people doing real jobs that most people would shun – the jobs and the people who do them -sad, but true fact. And, many are unseen and therefore go unrecognized. Without these people taking these jobs we would be in dire straits just like the scenarios about if all the illegal Mexicans were vanquished over-night – we would be stopped in our tracks! We are guilty of encouraging that which we rally against all the time – floods of workers from other countries taking our jobs. Are we becoming so elitist that we cannot encourage and support, praise, and recognize all the important work done by every individual to make our society run smoothly? And educators seem to be missing the concept to really encourage students to find their niche among the myriad necessary positions and support their pursuit accordingly.
It’s like University Professors – they and their institutions benefit from their being published, so they skip class, leaving the teaching to the students while they commune with peers and bury themselves in self-important writings…what’s wrong with this picture?
Our high school educators, councilors and administrators are so concerned with the percentage of students entering college from their institutions, classrooms, programs, etc, that they have completely left the many individuals – too many – lost in the stream. And while losing those individuals in the stream of college bound, we are losing the valuable trades that built this country and the civilized world. Many of these students are lost without a sense of direction, purpose and worse – means of gratifying self-support.
Previously, I have blogged about the role of the AGC (Association of General Contractors), that they invest in something like regionally placed summer camps to introduce and teach kids the trades. It would certainly be in their best interest to have well-trained and enthusiastic newcomers to the field. They could and should also participate in a nationwide emphasis on the revitalization of vocational classes in public schools.
In this time of economical desperation – and even if it were NOT, it is time to redirect some of this educational energy toward encouraging and strengthening all of our citizens’ aptitudes and get them to work!

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