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The Good

Last week I posted some thoughts about the state of our public school system. I had just come from a great speech and I was all fired up for reform, improvements, and making quality education available to everyone...especially my own kids. Laylee had been complaining of boredom and, although she talks frequently about how much she loves her teacher, I was worried that in first grade, she was already falling prey to a broken system. I wondered, "Maybe the whole way that education is set up, funded and supported in this country is not meeting her needs and although I feel optimistic that change is on the way, maybe it will come too late for the current generation."

I didn't realize that education reform would be such a hot button issue. I mean, I know that people have wildly differing views on how we should conduct reform but I didn't think that stating it was needed would make people feel hurt or offended. I thought, "Obviously if nearly 30% of American students never graduate from high school, then something is wrong." If, as Jeff Raikes stated in his speech, "Right now, in the midst of a historic recession, there is a gap of at least 12,000 jobs in STEM fields in Washington [State]. Double-digit unemployment, yet STEM industries have to look overseas for workers," then something needs to change to prepare American students to step up and fill those jobs.

When my sister, a former high school teacher, read the post, she said that it was an emotionally charged issue because when a teacher hears someone criticize the effectiveness of the school system or the effectiveness of teachers it's easy for that teacher to hear a personal criticism, which is difficult given how much many teachers dedicate to their profession and their students.

Many work long hours for very little pay, putting their heart and soul into educating my children, your children, children all over this country. Some are exceptional. Some are inadequate. I really think some have the potential for greatness but become so weary in the task that they are unable to perform at full capacity. Most teachers are undervalued.

Listening to her and reading your comments, even some harsh criticism of me and Laylee, I was prompted to give Laylee's teacher a call, find out what's been going on in the classroom, and talk to her about what I'd written. I've rarely met a teacher with as much energy and enthusiasm as "Miss Snop" and I didn't want my frustration with the big educational picture to come across as criticism of her specifically.

I asked her what she thought about Laylee's boredom in the classroom. We've met before and, as I've blogged in the past, she is fully aware of Laylee's strengths and weaknesses. She then began telling me all the things she's been doing in the classroom to meet Laylee's specific needs, singling her out for extra instruction, special assignments, different quizzes than what the other kids are taking, a separate reading group where she can read and grow above grade level. The list went on and on and I am humbled that she has managed to tailor Laylee's learning experience so much in a classroom with over 20 children when I sometimes struggle to meet the individual needs of my 3 kids.

She then told me about the new hands-on science curriculum the first grade teachers are planning for the kids and that she is excited to share with Laylee. This is the teacher who ran alongside her class in the school run-a-thon to encourage them to go faster and farther than the other classes. When Laylee cried at recess last week because she missed her grandma, Miss Snop invited her to stay inside and chat with her, sacrificing one of her rare breaks from the class. If the prognosis for Laylee's education looks bleak, then Miss Snop is a bright spot.

Her teacher last year was exceptional too. She's only a couple of years away from retirement and is still motivated to hone her skills with advanced training, stay current on the latest ideas in early childhood education, and invite guest specialists into the classroom to broaden the experience for the kids. Watching her dance with the kids and teach them reading and math through song, the whole room fully entranced by her, is amazing to watch.

Yes, I think there's a lot to do to make quality education available and relevant to all children. Yes, I'm still trying to figure out what I can do to help. Today I'd like to focus on what's going right. Have you or one of your children brushed shoulders with an inspiring educator? Please share.

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