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The Hearts and Hands in Our Schools


Q. What do we know about the people working in our schools these days?


Besides the fact that there are millions of them? We know that their job descriptions are immensely more diverse than a generation or two ago.


Teachers, lunch ladies, a secretary, a janitor, the principal . . . that used to be pretty much it for school personnel. Now there are so many more people working in our school systems, doing so many more things than teach. Just comparing a high-school yearbook of today to one from 30 years ago will make your head spin, to see all those new employees. There are paraprofessionals and nurses, special-education specialists and psychologists, counselors and curriculum developers. . . . In fact, with all these new job titles, many of them fulfilling various government mandates, in some districts there are now more people who are NOT full-time certified classroom teachers than those who ARE!


Yes, and educational staffing has gone far beyond school districts, as well. You find education workers in government, nonprofit associations, lobbying groups, working for politicians, grant writers, consultants, speakers, tutors . . . it seems as though new niches in education jobs are opened up all the time.


But the stars of the show are still our classroom teachers. And their jobs are still the most important ones in our children's lives.


The issues of personnel in education are as numerous as the job descriptions: salaries, benefits, working conditions, teachers' colleges, certification, competency exams, tenure, inservices, collective bargaining, "mission bloat," good governance vs. interference, working with special student groups, performance evaluation, diversity among staff, relationships between administrators and front-line personnel, nepotism, school violence, retirement plans, early-retirement opportunities, background checks, personal safety . . . any endeavor that is as people-intensive as education is will naturally spawn a wide range of issues to be addressed.


Personnel is one of the fastest-changing aspects in education today, and one of the most controversial. With all the benefits of our society's increasing diversity, it is becoming more challenging to create unity between home and school today.


One cost of the women's movement is that considerably fewer mothers are homemakers these days. That has shifted the atmosphere, especially in grade schools, away from the "community" feel of a generation ago. Then, it was parents and teachers working together on a first-name basis. Now, it's more of a workplace atmosphere. Parents and teachers don't know each other as well. And misunderstandings are increasing as a result.


Everyone who cares about children should learn more about the problems, joys and goals of the people who work in education. Get to know them. Become their friends and supporters. Encourage them. Learn about their issues. Criticize them, yes, but make sure it's done kindly and for constructive reasons. Mostly let them know you care what happens to them and the children they spend their days around.


After all, we're all on the same side . . . doing what's best for kids.


Homework: Among the many associations of educators is the National Education Association,, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Association of American Educators,


By Susan Darst Williams Teachers 01 2008


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