Jerry Buelter: Assumptions and opportunity
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A month ago, my wife and I were able to spend a wonderful weekend with our grandchildren. During our time together, I worked with my grandson on some of his homework. He is now in “second grade.” I note that because like almost all schoolchildren, he finished last year at home online. He is once again online. As we worked through a number of worksheets, I was impressed with his ability to navigate the laptop but distressed with the lack of time he was able to spend with his teacher.
As frustrating as this was to me as an old principal, I could only imagine how frustrating this experience is on the rest of us, parents and teachers alike. I prefer the old-fashioned way of developing working relationships inside a classroom.
Not long after, I came upon this quote from Albert Einstein: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Well, we are definitely in a crisis, no matter how it is spun, I thought to myself. What kind of opportunity is out there waiting to be discovered?
Meanwhile, I was reminded of another line I have thought about throughout my career in education. It comes from Douglas Adams, who wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” He states, “The hardest assumption to challenge is the one you don’t even know you are making.”
Given our current situation, what kind of assumptions do we have in education that might be challenged to create better opportunities for our children and their education?
Here are a few assumptions I have that may need challenging. Starting with the top of my list.
• The school calendar. The “agrarian” calendar we now follow is outdated. In fact, its origins has more to do with improper ventilation systems in city schools than children being available to harvest crops. I have had or know of students who were called out of class to either pick cotton during harvest or shovel snow out of the trees onto the slopes so the mountain could open. Teachers, who once needed summers to fulfill their education requirements, now have workshops scheduled throughout the year. Here are some questions worth considering:
Are there times during the year where it would make better sense for students in Steamboat Springs to be out of school — perhaps a longer break in the winter and shorter one in the summer?
Does it make sense to make up some of the time our children have missed due to COVID-19 in the months following the implementation of the vaccine? Is it important that teachers and students have real interaction with one another?
Could a different calendar impact the number of days our students are gone from school for activities and special events? Or when we schedule our family vacations?
• The school day. Currently our school day runs from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., which for the most part runs concurrent with our work schedules. Research has shown that delayed start times have an impact on the learning of students. Early start times may reduce the number of absences with those involved in activities.
Would an extended school day work better for our students? Would they be able to schedule times that benefit themselves as students? Or as those involved in school or work related activities?
Is it possible to have school day schedules that benefit our younger students? Could schools provide after-school programs for students who either need extra support or currently go home to an empty house? How creative can we be with transportation plans as well as cleaning schedules?
What would a teacher or support staff day look like? Would some teachers prefer to start earlier or later in the day? Might this allow for some creative curriculum?
• The grading system. OK, so you have heard this rant of mine before, but I consider it even more relevant today. Grades tend to monitor accountability. Does my child do his/her work? Is the work done on time? And what kind of quality is present in the work? Rarely, does a grade accurately tell us as parents what our child knows and is able to do. Shouldn’t this third bullet be the most important one of the three? I have seen the reports given out to parents during the pandemic, and I am not sure what they really say. Teachers are asked not to test or to do so without adding much weight or credence to the result in fear this may add more anxiety and stress to the student. What does this tell us?
Are there better ways to evaluate the growth and readiness of our children? Are we being too lax with our expectations?
I referred to my grandson as a “second grader” earlier. How do I know that is the case?
Lots of questions with very few answers. My point was not to point out solutions but to challenge assumptions. I am curious about what assumptions you think need challenging, I know I have several more.
Hang in there folks, and support our local establishments.
Jerry Buelter taught and coached at Steamboat Springs High School for 20 years and served as an assistant principal and principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School for 17 years.
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