My grandmother loved to tell my family stories of how she began her education in the one-room schoolhouse in our Swedish community of Venersborg, Washington in the early 1900’s. She was the oldest daughter of her Swedish immigrant family, and it was a dual responsibility of hers to learn English and the academics, as well as teach her family members what she was learning. Grandma was proud of her role in the one-room school as she was part of a multi-age community of bilingual learners who collaborated and helped each other learn. When I became a teacher almost two decades ago, Grandma was well in her nineties (after retiring from 30 years of teaching) and quite impressed with the amenities that our educational community had to offer in the 21st century.
This month’s election results have left the teachers of Arizona concerned, even distraught, over the future of the currently dismal state of the public education system of Arizona. The feelings of powerlessness and anxiety are especially heightened in my school district as our override was not renewed. Losing all-day Kindergarten, special areas, and increasing the amount of students in the classroom are just part of the plan to soften the blow of losing millions of dollars to sustain our survival. I couldn’t help but think of the public education system of the nineteen century and realize that we are heading back to a one-room school.
The reality of this situation was felt deeply by my grade-level team this week as we had to split a teammate’s class for several days, and I have been teaching 37 second-graders. It is especially exhausting as I am lacking space, resources, and technology that I usually incorporate in my teaching. The space factor is due to the size of a modern-day primary classroom designed for about 20 students. Textbooks are in short supply as the district allots 30 for each classroom. Technology is becoming a joke as my five-year-old laptops are feeling their age but not receiving any maintenance due to the lack of funds. I don’t even have a classroom phone as the last one died, and the district can’t seem to find a new one this year! (If we have a lockdown, I have contemplated smoke signals, but unfortunately the modern-day classroom doesn’t have windows.)
As our English Language Learners are moved into multi-grade level self-contained classrooms, 3rd graders who failed the Reading AIMS are held back a year, and learning disabled students are mainstreamed into lower grade levels, the public education classrooms are now even incorporating the mindset of educating a variety of ages in one classroom. I have a fourth grader coming into my classroom to receive intervention to support her gaps in language arts and math instruction. Although it has added to the stress of more bodies in a cramped space, it has been beneficial to not just this student to receive support for her needs, but also to my students who enjoy working with an older student.
Flashback to Grandma’s stories of the one-room school- lots of children in one room, different grade levels, and the teacher taught all the subjects with limited resources……… hmmm…. Sound familiar, anyone? The concern is that as these possibilities become our grim reality, the quality of public education will be lower for our students. I dare to say that we can make this happen if we have the mindset and determination to beat the odds. Our nation was blessed with influential leaders and patriots who were products of the one-room school.
As Thomas Paine stated, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
We must be the teachers who do not shrink from our service to our children, no matter how grim the future looks! Go forth, teacher soldiers!