By Craig Funston
If this is the first Tuesday after Labour Day, then school’s in session…I think. See, I’m already out of touch with the school calendar. Funny how reitirement, er, reloading, does that to you.
“School’s in session” means different things to different people. I alluded to this last week, but it was a great point then, too, and bears repeating: There’s a sense of routine for some, panic for others; paycheques kick in for some, others get paid year round. Those lazy, crazy days of summer have been replaced by, well, those lazy, crazy das of fall, winter, and spring.
The scrambling schedule at home is now under control, as mom doesn’t have to worry about kids being alone all day. Now she has to only worry about the few hours after school. Even the kids who were bored all summer—you know, nothing to do, no friends, and no real routine, have a change of pace and place: They can now have nothing to do, no friends, and no real routine..at school.
Hard to believe it, but my first year of school (as a student, of course) was 1960-1961. I even have all 14 report cards to prove it (just kidding: I didn’t flunk).
As I read the cards, good things and bad things flashed back . One, I was once a really good kid; not a great athlete, not even an outstanding student, of course, but a real pleasant (and surprise, surprise, funny) kid. Two, teaching and learning (or better, teachers and learners) were very different back in those dark ages (no capitals here, Maurice, for “dark” and “ages,” owing to one being a point in history, the other being a play on words).
The differences in teaching and learning, comparing then and now, are multi-fold. There are, in fact, so many that it would take a complete column dedicated to said contrasts. For example, the word “respect” comes to mind: respect for the teacher, respect for the institution, and respect for the opportunity to learn. Education just isn’t valued, prized, and appreciated as it should be.
Today, there is a much more cavalier attitude towards education. The easy access to information and low expectations for good work and good grades are two obvious factors. Choose any system out there: Many students (and parents) don’t appear to value a good, basic education.
Again, defining what true education is all about is fodder for yet another column. Education is more than books, Internet, group session, individualized work, and recess; it’s acquiring the fundamentals and facts, and then applying them in a real world setting. Still, it’s far more than that.
It includes curriculum, character, and context; it includes head knowledge, to be sure, but it must include “hand” knowledge (as in “hands-on” experience).
Believe it or not, we learned very well without smartboards, tablets, and computers. We had fewer days off, and more hard copy and hard facts. And as a sidebar, we were taught cursive writing and basic grammar, two significant missing ingredients in today’s curriculum.
Speaking of handwriting, despite my teachers’ best efforts, my own handwriting is now so bad, I am convinced I was destined to be a doctor. I can write indecipherable prescriptions with the best of them. And my grammar? As you know, I still love learning, teaching, and using grammar after all these years.
In fact, I spent years studying to be a grammar teacher, and now I were one.
It would be too simplistic to say that it was better then and worse now—even thought I lean that way. I knew of a lot of teachers back then who were losers, just like I know a lot teachers now (in every system) that are winners. Ditto for the students: We had some weird ones back in the ’60s and ’70s.
One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t thank my teachers enough—at least the ones who deserved thanking. I’m thinking of a couple of them right now.
You parents and/or former students: Take time out to thank former and current teachers.
Former ? Track them down; take them out for coffee, express appreciation (maybe even an apology). Current? Send them notes, assist them, support them in whatever way reasonable.
Teachers are humans like you, despite having four eyes (back and front of the head). Despite the detentions, homework assignments, and raised voices, they run a classroom hopefully like you would run a home—only they have more “kids.”
Teachers, parents, and students: We all need that little word of thanks sometimes. It goes a long way to creating a better, lasting bond. Even if it is from 55 years ago.