Blackboard Blues
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by John Nippolt
        Teachers and the teaching profession are among the most highly scrutinized professional workforce in the state, indeed, in the nation. Criticism flows from every level of society; government officials, bureaucrats, legislators, administrators, social commentators, my neighbors, and yes, even parents themselves. Relentless and hurtful, the negative and usually half-truth barbs aimed for the public education system always end up targeting teachers. Teachers better be ready; ever the scapegoats, they now perform a numbing amount of additional busy tasks to effect "transparency", a job in and of itself. Explaining the explanation.
       The good teachers know that education reform is a continuum. They understand methodology and curriculum delivery must remain in a constant state of flux to keep abreast with contemporary society. Traditional ideas attached to new words are what teachers must translate for students every year. Yet, educational bureaucrats and political administrators want more proof of what teachers do to prove they are getting their job done. Pour the waters of educational reform over me.
        It is the new school year. Every teacher was assured a busy first day back, complete with dates, data, stats, checklists, pamphlets, mandated meeting schedules, reminders, rules, and regulations. At my school, the schedule allotted teachers one day to prepare classrooms and finalize their first day presentations for the new incoming students.
        In the real world this prep work normally takes one or two weeks and is usually already completed by most teachers during their personal time off during the summer. The only chore left for me on that day was to finish putting up visual reminders for the kids to understand what can be accomplished with hard work. Hard work goes on in this room. My classroom is an art studio.
Attempting to create an ambience to make you feel you are in the right place as well as know you are in the right place demands a special studio space. Anyone who pays a visit to my classroom gets a real understanding about what goes on just by being there. It's for the kids, but I want all to see. Colleagues, special guests, visitors, professors, luminaries, administrators, bureaucrats, legislators, politicians, important people, and of course, the parents. Comes now an opportunity for all: Open House night.
        Perhaps one or two parents have heard of Open House night. That's how many parents per class usually visit me on this annual event. I know what to expect after long hours of planning; every year provides bitter reminders from the previous year's Open House. If only fate would have it that every parent see this room and recognize for themselves where one learns about the creative process. They need to see the artwork covering the walls of my classroom and feel the energy in this studio space that is still a work in progress. With so many teacher critics around this would seem the perfect time to meet face to face. Too many parents don't take the opportunity to know and appreciate teacher efforts on behalf of their children.
        The largest number of parents visiting my classroom amounted to seventeen people. Three or four parents per class is normal, not two or three sets of parents. Imagine teaching approximately two hundred and thirty kids a year. How much preparation must be done to accomplish this task alone? Realize the disappointment a teacher might feel when parents don't seem to care and prove it by not showing up to find out more about the other most important person in their child's life. I have no explanation for this phenomena.
No-shows miss an opportunity of a lifetime every time. One night out of the school year. A chance for teachers and parents to develop shared responsibility for student learning. It is this moment in time, where parents can find out for themselves who the teacher is. They can see for themselves if the teacher is knowledgeable, passionate, and professional. They can physically examine the learning environment to see if it is safe and conducive to learning. They can judge for themselves if this discipline will benefit their child's education.
        So, why won't they come?
        Should parents feel guilty about not attending? Maybe if they realized on Open House night, teachers are still at work waiting for them to arrive and still on the job until after they go home. Another six hours without pay. Multiply that by 13,000. All that time just for them.

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