One of the best things about being a homeschooling mom who was and remains a certified public school teacher is that I am in a unique position to say what I really think about the current state of affairs in public education without sounding self- serving. I have a lot to say – don’t get me started unless you want an earful! In summary I believe in free, high-quality public education for all and I will fight for it until my last breath. Period. The End. Many people – even those who homeschool and even those without children or whose children are long grown – share that sentiment. I am proud to call many of these people friends. On a recent Facebook thread for another teacher friend, some of these amazing people asked what they could do to help their local schools, teachers and students, and I was only too happy to share 10 Ways to Improve Public Schools!
1. Buy gift cards to stores that sell school supplies and grocery items (many of us buy food for our students as well as paper/pencils).
2. Join your PTSA and if there isn’t one to join, start one.
3. Volunteer in the classroom or in the school office. If you can’t spare time during the work day, call and ask how you can help at home – cutting out bulletin boards, collating homework packets, prepping lab supplies.
4. Attend school board meetings. Spend the first few times listening, then participate.
5. Send your child’s teachers a note or small something when you feel the school year is dragging along. The teacher probably feels the same way and could use a pick-me-up, too. A handwritten note, a $5 Starbucks card or just some spiffy new post-its work wonders.
6. Ask your school’s principal if there is a teacher/class/child who needs to be adopted. Then adopt that teacher/class/child, either as a family or as a civic/church group.
7. Ask your school’s principal how you can help at-risk kids. Can you start a tutoring group? A parenting mentor group? A backpack feeding program on the weekends? Teachers can’t do everything, but we will kill ourselves trying.
8. When you catch a teacher being awesome, send a letter. An actual, physical letter. Even the good ones need positives in their folder come evaluation time.
9. Stick up for your teacher – with your kids, with other parents, with the community. If you hear groundless teacher-bashing, stop it. If it has grounds, challenge the person to take it to the right person to get the problem solved.
10. Vote. And I’ll be bold – vote Democrat. Right now, those are the people who are looking for common-sense solutions, equitable funding for all children and asking actual boots-on-the-ground folks for their input.
If you can’t do all of these things all at once, pick five and put them on your calendar. Get involved, speak up, be the change. Teachers need you. We absolutely do.
This year, I’m adopting the classroom of a friend who is beginning her first year of teaching in a low-performing school. I have her first care package ready to go and will send more throughout the year. Locally, I am looking for financial supporters to bring Communities in Schools to our district. We have such a high rate of poverty here that nearly all of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. In fact, the number of non-qualifying students is so low, that our district was easily able to cover the difference so that every child eats free on every campus. Let that sink in for a moment. Communities in Schools is a partnership between the district and CIS to identify and meet needs on campus to improve campus climate, learning, attendance, and graduation rate – things that schools with high levels of low-SES students typically struggle with. If you want to know more about them, follow this link.
It’s just not enough to sit around and fault-find and complain. We can’t sit around wringing our hands and saying, “Back in my day…” longing for the way things used to be. (Hint: “the way things used to be” is only good for certain groups of people – it wasn’t rainbows and lollipops for everyone.) And it’s really a cop-out to shuttle your children to better schools, private, public, or in the home and say, “Well, MY kid is taken care of – my work here is done!” or “I pay my taxes – that’s my share!” It’s just not enough. We all have to do something to make it better for everyone.
So, what will you do? Be the change.