Maybe that teacher deserves more respect

I was sitting in the Sweet Home High School graduation last Friday, enjoying a seat that someone had graciously offered me, when the thought occurred to me that, while I appreciated the sight of 160 young people finishing their high school education, I also appreciated the teachers present.

I used to teach school (college) myself and I have empathy for hard-working teachers who really lay it on the line for their students.

But I confess I’ve also gotten frustrated when I don’t see kids being taught what I think they should know. For instance, I see schoolwork sometimes coming back with too many spelling errors and really poor grammar. (I know, I know. I’m well aware that way too many typos sneak into this newspaper in the break-neck conditions we sometimes produce it in.) But it bothers me when teachers don’t teach kids to do it right. It really bothers me when I realize that the teacher may not even know what is right.

Now, I know from first-hand experience that teachers are human. Believe me, I know. I was one.

And this is not a diatribe on the failures of teachers. What I really want to talk about is how tough it can be to teach.

Last week I read reports about a veteran teacher in Oakridge who was put on leave after she taped a very uncooperative third-grade boy to his chair. She used masking tape and, according to fellow students quoted in a newspaper report, it was done with a certain amount of light-heartedness – at least for the other students. The 9-year-old boy didn’t appreciate it and reported it to his parents, who also didn’t appreciate it. They yanked him out of school and complained. Eventually, after an investigation by the school district, she was reinstated – but disciplined.

This situation illustrates one of the problems facing teachers today. It’s actually generations old, dating back to the 1960s when we Americans suddenly decided that nobody could tell us what to do any more. This mentality, which was taking root when I was in grade school, has matured to the point that the old-fashioned corporal punishment meted out when I was a kid in school is strictly verboten. In fact, it’s unimaginable in today’s classroom. And it makes it tough to teach.

This mentality has led to the reality of classrooms with too many kids who often have been held to too little accountability for their actions at home, and then must be taught basic behavior skills by a teacher who has little means of enforcement in what inevitably must be a battle of wills.

The Positive Behavior System used by local schools is, I’m told by teachers who know, is about as effective as any they have seen. That’s partly because everyone in the school, from the principal’s office to the janitor’s closet, follows the same principles and enforces them.

Last week we wrote our annual editorial to the graduating seniors, encouraging them to follow those PBS principles: respect, safety and responsibility. It’s not always easy.

It was interesting to witness what happened on Friday morning, two days after the paper came out. Many of the graduating seniors (and some angry parents) complained vociferously about having to hold graduation in the Main Gym, instead of in Husky Stadium, due to what school officials feared were worsening weather conditions.

Officials explained that the weather forecast early on June 6 called for a possible wind-chill factor in the low 40s by evening which, were it to be mixed with rain for two hours, could produce some very nasty conditions.

The students’ concern was understandable. They were afraid the gym wouldn’t hold all their friends and family who were planning to attend, some from afar.

But with thousands of dollars of equipment at risk, not to mention the health of graduation attendees and participants who might find themselves sitting in a nasty downpour with the wind blowing, the call had to be made early. Aand teacher Rob Younger, who has organized graduations for the last 25-plus years – longer than any of these students have been alive – made the tough call to move graduation indoors.

Having stood on the Husky Stadium sideline with the wind driving rain sideways under my umbrella, I was sympathetic. If they’d put the graduates under tents, that would have not guaranteed their comfort and would simply have impaired the view of the shivering spectators in the stands.

Well, as we know now, everybody did fit. The ceremony was really quite nice. I, for one, enjoyed it. And actually, I thought it was easier to see more of what was going on in there than it is in the football stadium, especially with tents up as there were a couple of years ago – in the rain.

The gym did not get hot. It didn’t stink, at least not where I was sitting.

I didn’t bother checking the wrestling room Friday night because I was told no one was in there to watch the video feed. All the attendees got seats in the big house.

Not to overdo the preaching, but isn’t the situation last Friday exactly what PBS is about? We had a situation that involved safety (health-wise, anyway), responsibility (on the part of Younger and others who had to make the decision about what would make the best of a bad situation) and respect (the ability of the graduates and the rest of us to accept that decision).

The point is, it’s easy to get mad, particularly at teachers.

A lot of them are a little stodgy (like me) and in a room full of edgy, quick-thinking, bored, imaginative kids, they don’t always come off looking like Superman or Wonder Woman.

But they still deserve respect, if nothing else than for the fact that they’re willing to put out for our kids, some of them with much effort.

In this case, I say Rob Younger did the right thing. It may not have been absolutely perfect, but that’s how life works sometimes, kids.

The man deserves some respect.