For nearly five years, the public school system endured my attempts to teach high school English. My last assignment was a peach…four classes of senior elective English…filled with bright volunteers who knew they were bound for academia. Great kids and good students, all of them. Lucky me. (I also taught one period of history, but that’s for another blog.)
My teacher buddies were the two librarians, a math teacher, a music teacher, and the Agriculture teacher. My break/prep period and the Ag teacher’s break coincided, which may explain why we got acquainted. Over numerous cups of coffee, I discovered he taught mechanics, welding, machine operation, public speaking, accounting, judging, planning and planting…and I’m sure that’s not the whole list.
When I compared my efforts to prepare students to lead a life (Shakespeare anyone?) to his much broader, more practical training program, I decided he was doing a much, much better than I was.
I thought back to my school years and tried to find one thing I had learned in high school or college I could use to earn a living. Except for some basic science and math knowledge and for some honing of my slumbering writing and speaking skills, I couldn’t think of a darned thing…other than teaching.
As I cataloged my vocational skills, I realized my survival skills were those I learned from my father and my uncles…skills I used to earn the money to put myself through college: basic mechanics; how to change a tire; building a car from the ground up; basic carpentry; tool use; power saw operation (which came in handy when I worked summers as a firefighter for the US Forest Service); truck driving; auto wrecker driving; and just plain old “how to work.”
I thought about what we were collectively doing in our public schools…or not doing…for students through our insistence on a standard, nationwide college preparatory program. At that time, about thirty percent of our students were going on to college. (Hmm…an immediate seventy percent MIA count. Wow.) Of those who attended college, about ten percent actually matriculated. (Ten percent of thirty percent leaves us ninety-seven percent MIA of those who actually graduated from high school.)
I think this realization triggered my decision to leave teaching, but I sometimes think if our schools offered good, solid vocational programs for those who wanted and perhaps needed that type of training, I might have stayed with it. Vocational Ag, anyone?
p.s. I love my Shakespeare. Used to teach his plays.