Opinion: Great teachers enable a vibrant society

By Ragan Phillips

Teachers are great, until we take away their opportunity to teach.

The best of them, and that includes many in the Hanover County public school system, really care about their students. Not just the students as a whole but about each individual student. In their heart, these teachers want to see every child achieve their potential, find their innate creativity, build character that will sustain them for a lifetime, and learn to think critically.

A Hanover teacher wrote to me: “As I watched the average class size rise from 15-18 to the current 23-25… I guarantee that our students are not receiving the education they were even eight years ago…Even the most experienced teacher is challenged to thoughtfully instruct with a ratio of 24:1, (and to reach)  each student’s potential …”

The teacher continues, “I never hear complaints about income or raises.  The repeated complaint is there is not enough time to jump through all the paperwork hoops, new technology trainings, and behavior challenges…”

I am certain every resident of Hanover County, with perhaps a few rare exceptions, had the opportunity for a good education. Now, regardless of whether we have children in our public schools or not, it is not the time to turn our back on the needs of our teachers and our students.

Here, In My Opinion, is where the rubber meets the road: Our society will materially benefit if and when we provide all students with an “advanced” education. Given that kind of education, based on forward-thinking programs in the schools, students will move into adulthood and the highly competitive, technological world, with the skills necessary to find meaningful employment.

Our economy, nationally and at the local level, will improve for two really important reasons: First, with more people working and working at better jobs, disposable income and tax revenues will increase and long-term issues such as the national deficit and the vast number of unemployed and underemployed workers can be reversed. Secondly, with jobs there will be many less individuals and families in need of social assistance and welfare. I also believe, over time, this “advanced” education will lead to a reduction in social issues that now impact all segments of our society.

If our society can provide the opportunity for a real job, the individual will be able to hold their head up and will know self-respect. Will crime, domestic abuse and other social ills disappear? No, but with a gainfully employed population these issues will decline.

And the key to this vibrant society is education. And the key to education is great teachers.

We need to hire teachers who are in the top third of their graduating class. We need to give them the technology to bring their students into today’s fast-paced, technological world but also with the gift of critical thinking and creativity through the humanities and the arts. We need to give these teachers fewer students in the classroom so the teacher will have a real opportunity to make differences in the lives of students.

We need to respect and support our teachers for the work they are doing to educate the next generation.

The Hanover County School Board can provide the leadership needed to drive our schools toward that “advanced education.” They could open a civil, meaningful dialogue with the public through “Town Hall” style meetings, thereby allowing strong ideas to be put forth and then be given thoughtful consideration. The Board could establish an “Action List” of the ideas put forth by the public as part of the 2014-15 Budget process, with monthly public updates on progress. They could report regularly to the public on the quality of their classroom teachers and trends in retirement and resignations.

If and when the Board of Supervisors decides to reduce the public school budget for 2014-2015, the School Board could take a strong stand in defense of the budget.

The school board can make a difference. But they need to hear from parents and residents, from business owners and from civic organizations. The School Board needs to hear that the public sector is concerned.

Reach out to board members. Give then the proverbial “hug” for their work but then challenge them to push ahead toward that “advanced education.” Teachers can do the job that is needed. But it is up to us, our entire community, to give these teachers that opportunity.

About the Writer:

Ragan Phillips is a retired business executive who lives in Ashland with his wife and two dogs. They have three grandsons who collectively have 34 student-years in the Hanover County Public School System. Contact the writer at rtphil504@gmail.com.




Posted on Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm