Educators need us now more than ever

I sat through a marathon school board meeting Monday night. I’m serious, this thing was, like, four hours long.

CHUCK VANDENBERG

One of the agenda items was a presentation from Kim Harmon, the Fort Madison Community School District’s Director of Student Services and guru of all things curriculum.

It was a tough presentation and Harmon took some heat from the board for what, in a nutshell, was student performance in the K-6 level.

Board director Brad Menke went so far as to say Harmon was saying our teachers aren’t good enough. The comment was appropriately received with distaste from many on the board and Harmon.

I’ve compared Menke to a bass drum in a room of flutes. He really is. Brad says what’s on his mind in these meetings and it’s refreshing, but it stings sometimes.

I think the comment was made from a frustrated board member and not meant to be absorbed the way it was said. However, it does give one pause.

Of course we don’t believe our teachers aren’t good enough. That’s a tough gig and I’m not speaking out of turn. I have three public school teachers in my immediate family and hear the stories on a regular basis.

And we can’t forget the overhaul of collective bargaining and the souring of the relationship between the State of Iowa and its respective teacher’s unions.

But the bigger picture and the blame falls directly on the pandemic, in our opinion.

The pandemic created a learning environment that was close to the worst possible learning environment imaginable. Virtual learning just didn’t work. I tried to sit in on a virtual classroom when schools were completely shut down.

Not one student showed up for the class. But they were volunteer, and I was told that even though they were volunteer, because not everyone had reliable Internet access, students were participating at about a 60% rate. Not one student showed up for the class. The teacher was clearly embarrassed and we talked briefly and then I politely stepped away.

I’ve spoken in classrooms before about writing and journalism and I know and can feel when there are distractions and there are distractions for teachers. In other words, it’s tough enough when you’re teaching in person.

Now try to imagine teaching modules to an 8-year-old who is sitting in his or her bedroom, or at the coffee table, or kitchen table, with 20 other students doing the same thing. Folks, as my dad used to say all the time, that dog don’t hunt.

So, not only was that extremely difficult for teachers and students alike, now the modules, or in my day chapters, that they were supposed to learn a year-and-a-half ago are being revisited now. While that’s going on the students should be learning more advanced modules in accordance with a typical grade system.

Think about it. These kids are essentially a year-and-a-half behind, and short of making a school day 12 hours, that’s going to be extremely difficult to cycle out of.

Top that with the current shortage of teachers and extreme shortage of special education teachers and we have a boiling pot that won’t be stopped with a wooden spoon. (Yeah, that really works by the way).

I’m a journalist, and now a grant writer and student of ARPA funds, and with a retired teacher and two current teachers in the family, I still have no idea how you get out of that mess. If you’re a P.E. teacher…good choice.

My heart went out to all the teachers in our coverage area as I saw this board get emotional about our children and how we’re going to better serve them. I saw parents weeping as the district considered using a virtual special education service because they just can’t find any teachers.

Menke, rubbing his forehead and shaking his head, said the district needs to listen to its people in resolving some of these issues, actually raising his voice at several points and asking, “Are we listening to what our people are telling us.”

It’s a tough environment for the district, it’s a tough environment for a board passionate about it’s mission statement and vision of making sure all students have the resources they need to be prepared for life after high school.

And it’s tough on families, many of whom are still reeling economically from the pandemic, which, oh by the way…is still here. So, not only is the district grappling with curriculum, but also with finding teachers, special education teachers, and keeping a very watchful eye on a pain-in-the-butt virus.

Social and emotional learning is also front and center and strained under the impact that virus has had on that aspect of daily learning. Let’s stack on top of all that a couple stats from Fort Madison Junior High Principal Pat Lamb that most students would rather suffer socialized bullying than give up their Facebook platform or that one-in-five students has at one point thought of a plan to commit suicide.

There’s never been a more important time to have our teachers’, educators’, and administrators’ backs. We may not be thrilled with all the decisions that have been made in the past, but now is not the time to be pointing fingers. We have some solid, solid candidates running for three spots on the Fort Madison School Board.

The Fort Madison Education Association had a forum Thursday night that lasted three hours and they came out with endorsements for Menke, Mio Santiago, and Paul Wilkerson out of candidates that also include incumbent Brian Steffensmeier and newcomers David Allen, Aleena Garr, and Jadi Zioui..

This election, and it’s said almost every cycle, but considering all the aforementioned issues facing our educators at all levels, this election could be one of the most important school board election in decades.

And talking about schools, if you get the chance, Central Lee officials have done a miraculous job with $13 million in creating a learning space with enhanced security, athletic, and fine arts spaces. if you get a chance, get out to see that place. You won’t believe how much they got done with what really doesn’t seem like that much money anymore.

But that’s Beside the Point.

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