My name is Alex Smith. I am a student at Quinnipiac University working toward my master’s degree in Interactive Media. I work at a university in central Florida. And I write about the problems with the current public education system. You are probably curious as to why. I’m not a teacher. Or an administrator. I haven’t been in the public school system since 2007 (and I don’t plan on going back). So why is public education so important to me that I need to share my thoughts and opinions with you.
It starts with my best friend (and roommate) Sarah. I’ve known Sarah for 5 years now. We met in college (during my sophomore year, her freshman) while we were both taking a class about the U.S. space program. We became friends later when we were assigned the same office hours at the college’s tutoring center.
One of the first things I learned about Sarah is that she has an intense love for physics. More than anything, she wants to teach physics to high school students. During college, she had a fantastic student teaching experience and was certain, more than ever, that she wanted to teach physics for the rest of her life. Sarah graduated last year and got a job as a high-school physics teacher almost immediately.
So she (and I) uprooted and moved over 1,000 miles south to Florida, ready to start a new chapter in our lives. We moved down about a week before the start of the new school year and Sarah was ridiculously excited about her new job. Unfortunately, she got a big dose of reality.
Sarah works at a Title I school – a designation that is given to schools that have a high percentage of students from low-income families. Her school does not receive a lot of financial assistance from the state. She quickly realized this the first time she stepped into her classroom and found there were not enough supplies for her students to do more than a few physics labs. The likelihood was that the school wouldn’t even be able to purchase these needed supplies for her. She would just have to settle for what was there.
Sarah soon encountered other issues. Most of her students did not have the math skills to be in her physics class. She spent more time disciplining her students than actual teaching. She constantly had to tell parents why their kids were failing – and then deal with the fact that most parents just didn’t care. She had to spend time adjusting her lesson plans to fit the “standardized” format all teachers had to follow and then make sure that she was teaching everything using “standardized” methods. Sarah had to do a lot of extra work for an education model that yielded few positive results.
Sarah began to come home most days discouraged and angry and upset, with the students, the teachers, the administrators and the parents. It hurt me to see her like this all the time. To see her so frustrated all the time with a job she wanted so much. And as the year went on, it didn’t get better. Now she’s waiting for the last day of school to come so she can finally have a break and some time to prepare for the next school year. She still has hope that things will get better and plans on doing everything she can to make it so it will be.
Sarah is why I need to write about the public education system, if only to offer her story as a new perspective on a well-worn topic. Sarah is a great teacher. She cares about her students and wants to teach them to understand the world around them, wants to help them grow and mature. But the problems she faces every day discourage her to and it more likely that one day she will just stop caring.
The education system needs to change. For Sarah. For all the teachers who come home angry, frustrated, and exhausted with a system that refuses to correct itself, to adapt, until one day they just stop trying, stop caring. I don’t ever want Sarah to stop caring.