Updated: October 3, 2013 6:06AM
I couldn’t miss the American flag hanging in the corner of the classroom and, for just a moment, I flashed back to my grade school days.
The Pledge of Allegiance to start the day. Practical but uncomfortable desks. Old shelves housing even older text books. A principal’s voice over the loud speaker. An overhead projector for class projects. A chalkboard or dry-erase board behind the teacher’s desk. Ring a (school) bell?
After being out of school for more than three decades (President Ford was in office during my middle school years), it’s easy to imagine that today’s school kids are learning with unimaginable high-tech tools and equipment. And they are, but the essentials are still essential to their daily education, I recently learned.
Earlier this week, I attended an open house at Washington Township Middle School, in rural Porter County, where I got a crash-course in 21st Century Education 101. It was a far cry from my “Wonder Years” time at Kennedy-King Middle School in Gary. Or maybe it merely seems that way in hindsight.
School kids these days have so much more to absorb, study and juggle, not to mention the generational task of remembering their locker combination. For many years into adulthood, I had sweaty nightmares of forgetting my locker combo and having to – gasp! – visit the principal’s office to fess up my stupidity. Oh nooooooooooo!
Today, on Labor Day, I want to note the unending and often unappreciated work of teachers and educators across Northwest Indiana, most who teach kids for the simple reason of “making a difference” in their young lives, as one educator told me.
On this night at Washington Twp., long past the day’s final bell, some teachers were pulling in a 14-hour workday while politely explaining to parents their lesson plans for the new school year.
While sitting on a gymnasium bleacher, I listened to the Physical Education (PE) teacher, Marla Hannon, outline her rules, goals and plans for the 355 students she deals with daily. I was happy to hear the two basic rules under her watch: Common sense and mutual respect, which transcend time, place and all socio-demographics.
I also smiled when she practically pleaded with parents to teach their children both personal and social responsibility, a difficult lesson for too many helicopter parents these days. These are the same parents who wonder what happened to their kids when they crash and burn as irresponsible adults.
Hannon quickly got my attention when she uttered two frightening words from my middle school days: Fitness Test. You know — pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, sprints, track runs. It still haunts me.
I swear I’m in better shape now than then, a sad indictment on my chubby youth, with vivid memories of dangling on a climbing rope, unable to hoist myself more than four feet off the ground.
“DAVICH, ARE YOU EVEN TRYING?!” the gym teacher would yell.
At Washington Twp., I felt more confident when Michele Jablonski, a language arts teacher, asked parents about passive versus active sentence structure. I probably could have separated my shoulder to instinctively raise my hand and explain it in Mr. Know-It-All detail. But I didn’t. I just smiled and nodded with the other obliging parents.
Again, in her classroom, too, I noticed other remnants from my distant school days: Kids raising their hand to answer a question; a poster of Albert Einstein on the wall; an overhead projector. Then again, she lost me when talking about “Singapore Math.” Singapore huh?
Lindsey Taylor, a social studies teacher, explained that 30 percent of a student’s final grade is based off homework assignments. I would have flunked her class right there.
However, as a former class clown I would have learned a lot more words in her class because she disciplines misbehaving students by saying, “Grab a dictionary!” This means they must take a dictionary home and copy a page from it, word for word. (I’m sure I would have copied a page with words like “mean,” “unfair” and “Nazi.”)
Again, I noticed another time capsule from our grade school daze: A taunting wall clock that surely must be broken because it moves so darn s-l-o-w-l-y. Fortunately, the school bell rang, reminding parents in classic Pavlovian conditioning to hustle to the next class.
To this day, I hear a similar bell and begin to dart to a locker that doesn’t exist with a combo that doesn’t work next to a bully who doesn’t hesitate to laugh at me.
Sandy Walla, the visual arts teacher, seemed genuinely excited to not only educate but also enlighten her class of “future little artists.” Student-decorated umbrellas hung upside down from the ceiling next to mobiles made from CDs and DVDs, offering a sneak peek at what’s to come.
Laurie Schrock, a science teacher, told her students, “We’re all scientists,” an ideal introduction to such intimidating topics such as life sciences, the metric system and analytical hypotheses. A humorous poster on her wall offsets the expected hard work in her classroom: “$5 Charge for Whining.”
Other posters throughout the school flashed me back to our older school days: “Avoid Plagiarism,” “Gossip is not cool,” and Mark Twain’s quote, “When in doubt, tell the truth.”
The hard truth on this Labor Day – a holiday dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers – is that teachers mean more to our country’s future than most any other profession.
Do you know how it’s common to thank a veteran for our nation’s freedom? I suggest we also start thanking a teacher for our nation’s future. Possibly the next time you’re strolling through a hallway searching for your kid, whose safety, education and future is entrusted to — you guessed it — teachers.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.