Is National Teachers Day this Generation’s VE Day?

Yesterday was VE Day an unofficial holiday when we remember those who risked their lives for the good of society fighting in Europe in WW 2.

Oddly that day made me think of National Teachers day which was May 5th.

To most this might seem odd.  National Teachers day would be a day to remember the best teachers we ever had like Mrs. Teresa Mahoney who I had for both 4th & 7th Grades way back in 1972 & 1976.  She introduced me to poetry from Arthur Guiterman’s Pershing at the Front which made me smile to Countee Cullen’s Incident which made me think.

However given the situation teachers find themselves in today the VE day comparison might be apt.  Exhibit A  the 2nd largest city in New England Worcester MA:

School safety liaison Rob Pezzella says schools and police have already implemented a measure officials announced last week by stationing officers at the district’s high schools. Additional measures could include metal detectors.

 The new security measures came in the wake of a series of weapons-related arrests at or near some of the high schools over the past few weeks.

What incidents?  Incidents like this.

Worcester Police arrested a 16-year-old student at Burncoat High School after they say a loaded handgun and ammunition was found in a container in his locker.

And this

Police on Wednesday arrested five Worcester Vocational Technical High School students after a witness reported seeing them with guns in a school parking lot.

At Worcester North High a vice principal was assaulted trying to break up a fight and some teachers are near the breaking point

What my colleagues and I experienced this week went well beyond any “disturbance” or “challenge” we’ve dealt with in the past. It did not happen without signs pointing to the inevitable eruption in our hallways. Control has been eroding for some time, and the reasons are many. North may be a brand new facility, but it brings with it all the baggage an urban high school carries: a high poverty rate, understaffing, children with intense mental health issues and a reluctance to hold students and families accountable for unacceptable behavior.

A full time officer is now on duty .  Counselor at Large Mike Gaffney put it this way

“Instead of a learning environment, the emphasis has been to keep children (often young adults), with no interest in an education, in the schools to show an increase in graduation rates. Instead of a safe environment, the emphasis has been to reduce detention, suspension, and expulsion actions for the purpose of showing an artificial reduction in disciplinary issues. Meanwhile, these disruptors with no interest in an education bully, attack, and assault teachers and other students. Our children should not be forsaken for a statistic.”

In fairness to Worcester this is neither a new nor a local problem only as the national results of search for “Teacher Assaulted” in Google or Yahoo will quickly demonstrate.  Nor is the focus on stats vs. teaching confined to Worcester as those who were willing to stray from the media narrative of the Trayvon Martin case could tell you:

Both of Trayvon’s suspensions during his junior year at Krop High involved crimes that could have led to his prosecution as a juvenile offender. However, Chief Charles Hurley of the Miami-Dade School Police Department (MDSPD) in 2010 had implemented a policy that reduced the number of criminal reports, manipulating statistics to create the appearance of a reduction in crime within the school system. Less than two weeks before Martin’s death, the school system commended Chief Hurley for “decreasing school-related juvenile delinquency by an impressive 60 percent for the last six months of 2011.” What was actually happening was that crimes were not being reported as crimes, but instead treated as disciplinary infractions.

Stats vs actual learning is at the heart of the Common Core debate as well, but that conversation is a week’s worth of pieces in itself.

As for Worcester, I’d like to say that these crisis has resulted in a renewed focus by the bureaucracy  not just on the protection of teachers and students but on the purpose of schools teaching mathematics,  science, history,  English & poetry, alas it seems the focus in Worcester remains on perception and gestures:

On Friday, Worcester photographer Troy B. Thompson visited the high school and invited all students to participate in his “No Evil Project,” which seeks to break down the stigmas of labels.

Along the same lines as Thompson’s community-wide project, which is currently being featured at the Denholm Building, students wrote out three labels they feel they represent and pledge an act of kindness.

I can’t imagine Mrs. Mahoney doing this.  Her generation was the generation of the Great Depression & the Second World War.  They knew what hardship, suffering and loss were and understood that there was a cost to everything worthwhile.   Rocking back on your chair (these were the days before one piece desks & chairs) would cost you a nickel for the Catholic Missionaries and those were the days when a rap across the knuckles with a ruler was not going to generate a call to DSS.

National Teachers day was once a simple day when we remembered our favorite teachers like Mrs. Mahoney who helped make us who they are, but will the day soon come when we think of National Teachers day as a remembrance to spare a thought for the modern teacher who faces an environment fraught with dangers & priorities for the good of society.

Just like VE day.  Except we’re not winning.

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