The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

I was Wrong Then, But I Think I’m Right Now

About two weeks ago I read an article in CNN on-line that described recent changes in Arizona’s public schools as a big success. And because I was strongly impressed by it, I praised the same things in my next post to you. Soon afterward, however, I began to see things differently, and decided that what was described as success could very well turn out to be a disaster. So, today I will do my best to identify the hidden problems in my previous post and predict what I now think is likely to happen if our federal government does not reverse its decisions.


What has happened in Arizona over the past few years is a significant change in American school operations. First, because that state was unwilling to raise school salaries, it lost 3,000 teachers in a single year, many of them moving into jobs in local businesses where they were offered significantly higher salaries because they had science degrees and experience. Nevertheless, those facts didn’t seem to worry the state or national officials because they had already created what they thought was a good solution to teacher revolt, and were certain it could be instituted nationwide. Their solution was to replace revolting American teachers with job-seekers from the Philippines, who had earned science degrees, demonstrated their teaching skills, and were eager to come to Arizona for salaries that were better than the ones at home. In addition, some of them already spoke some English.

However, once Philippine teachers take over their work in Arizona schools they will be likely to have some serious problems; specifically “culture shock”, poor English speaking, and unfamiliarity with regular classroom procedures. But the article claimed that most of the new foreign teachers would be able to deal with those problems and do a good job of teaching American students.

What was not made clear in the CNN article was the fact that the rules agreed upon by both countries are restrictive. They say that Philippine teachers may stay in the United States for only two years. Also, whether or not they will be replaced by new teachers from the same country seams to be undecided so far.

Apparently, our national officials believe that having one year of outsiders teaching in our schools will be enough to persuade revolting American teachers to return to their original jobs and salaries. Does that mean that what is likely to happen in Arizona is also bound to happen country-wide? I think it does. It looks like our federal government is determined to persuade all American teachers to quietly accept low salaries and disrespectful treatment as their lot in life, and then all our eduction problems will be solved.


All That Glitters Is Not Gold

At last I found a newspaper article I can respond to today. Although I’ve been writing regularly over the past few months the topics I have covered have been nothing new. My problem has been that I couldn’t find anything new about education, only the same old complaints about low test scores. But a few days ago I stumbled upon an interesting article involving education that I wanted to write about. It told the story of an area in our country where many teachers have left their schools in order to get better paying jobs in businesses.

Recently several southern states have suffered a severe shortage of high school science teachers who left for better paying jobs. In Arizona for instance, there were 7,000 school vacancies because teachers’ salaries were significantly lower than what they could get in various science and technical industries.

In order to fill the open teaching jobs many schools have sought teachers from other countries. And for this year, at least, they have been very successful in securing well-trained foreign teachers who are satisfied with the low salaries American schools offer because they were better than what they would earn at home. Even though many of their families would be left behind for a long time, it still seemed to be better for them to work at jobs in the U.S. than in their home countries.

Unfortunately for us, however, our education problems are not solved. For one thing, not all the new teachers have standard teaching certificates or speak English well enough to communicate effectively with our students. But even more significant is the fact that our federal laws do not allow them to stay indefinitely or become citizens. After two or five years, at the most, their credentials will expire and they will have to leave this country. Also. many of those workers who can stay legally prefer to go home and be with their families once more.

As I see the situation, the scarcity of American teachers in certain areas has not been solved. In fact it has only been delayed, and is likely to increase and spread as time goes on. Eventually, our country will see a significant scarcity of all kinds of teachers in all areas because we pay them inadequately and treat them badly. My intention is to describe and explain those educational problems I am aware of in my next article because it is too large and complicated to explain here and now. Hang in there! I promise to describe and explain my views next time.

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Catchers in the Rye

Because school started last month I expected to be able to write about current happenings– good or bad– in in our schools. But I’ve had no luck so far. Nothing of the kind is appearing in the newspapers or other sources I read. Like you readers I want to know about education today, and I strongly resent being held in the dark. Because I believe that public education is a basic component in our country I must continue to write about it even though the newspapers seem to consider it an issue of the past. For that reason I am posting a piece today that I wrote and published in 1994, long before I had begun writing this blog . I have chosen to post it here today because I believe it is as significant now as it was back then, 25 years ago.

When I first read J.D. Salinger’s novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”, it struck me as a clumsy story written to justify a meaningless title. Would any real teenager see himself as the rescuer of endangered children, as the boy in that book does?

Today, even though I am still cynical of Salinger’s novel, I find his catcher image poignant and real. There are so many children in this country who are physically, economically, socially, or psychologically in danger. Even though statistics don’t tell the story of children’s tragic lives, we as educators see the evidence day after day in their anger, apathy, self-destructiveness, and resistance to learning. Because we are where children are, because they will drive us crazy if we do nothing, and because we care, we must be today’s catcher in the rye.

I have no magic formula for child-catching. Each rescue must be worked out in personal terms that fit the catcher and the child. Probably it doesn’t even matter if our ways are sophisticated or crude, gentle or tough; as long as one sensible adult is looking after the welfare of each child.

I do believe, however, that there are conditions that are are essential for child-catching to succeed. The framework of operation must be small, physically close to children, and flexible. Forget any plan for recruiting 500 teachers as catchers, training them, and setting up a schedule for patrolling the rye. To succeed we need small schools or ones divided into small community units; reasonable classroom time and space, personal relationships, and classroom legitimacy for play and conversation. Also, authority should be in the hands of front-line practitioners, and educational visions unclouded by political pressure to cover academic ground, raise test scores, or produce workers for industry.

Within such a framework educators are able to catch children who stray too close to the edge. They know each one as an individual and become aware of what is happening to him. They also find time to teach children about the world, and without having to”implement” or “assess” any current practices make exceptions to rules, change foolish ones, and act differently from past mistakes. Ultimately, when the behavior of children or bureaucrats becomes intolerable, teachers may even stamp their feet and shout, “This has got to stop!”

Although a legal permanent rescue is a slow process and an imperfect one, catching often shows quick and dramatic results. I credit those results to what I call the “wort theory” of education. In essence it states that children’s problems are like warts: if you can destroy just a few of them, the rest may get the message and go away. Children who are carrying intolerable burdens of family dysfunction, bad learning habits, or social ineptitude may shake them off in a few weeks when a caring teacher takes the time to talk through a single problem with them or tutor them in one new skill. In essence what I am saying here is that good teachers are the people who must decide and act on what is best for their students, not experts who are far away, bound by countless rules, and have no personal understanding of an individual’s problem.

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Learning to Read

Today I want to teach everyone some simple facts about about learning to read. These days teaching phonics to children is very popular, but it isn’t the best way for students to learn new words. Here’s why.

In order to be able to read anything you must first be able to speak lots of words and know what they mean. Just sounding out such words as “Germaine” or “indiscrete” wouldn’t be enough. You would have to know their meanings beforehand.

Sentences that give you a hint about the meaning of a new word help you to read with understanding and identify the word. Here’s one example with three new words! “Although my friend made a serious offense by selling cocaine, he shouldn’t have to spend the rest of his life in purgatory.”

When young children are read to regularly they rarely have any trouble learning to read at school. Learning comes quickly when a child is able to see and hear the words his parent is reading to him.

Learning to read by teaching phonics is difficult because you need to the know the sounds of all letters and their variations.   For example the ordinary sound of  the letter C is “ca”, but it could also be “ch”, “ic” or “k”.

I’m having trouble with this computer and may have to have it fixed or buy a new one. If you don’t get any messages from me by next week, send pennies!


How Can We Know What a Good School Is Today?

Every morning I look to see how many people are reading my post from the previous day and also which pieces I wrote in the past are still popular. Amazingly, the consistent winner over a long time has been “What Is the difference between a good School and an effective school”, which I posted some years ago. Not only does that surprises me, it also shames me because what I said then has no relevance today, and I have failed to update it.

The reason I no longer express my opinions about school quality is that I’m retired, and no longer have a chance to visit and observe in school classrooms. The only opinions I’m now aware of are those in newspapers, and they vary widely. I can’t stop wondering if that is because schools also vary widely or because those who express their opinions are not qualified to make valid judgments.

At this point, I feel that the best thing I can do is to ask the opinions of my faithful readers. If you have had any recent experience with a school, or if you know someone who has, tell us what you know. For instance are the school classes of a decent size; are homework assignments reasonable; is their good student behavior; does the principal do a good job; are parents’ opinions or requests taken seriously; and most important of all, are your kids learning and liking to be in school?

If you, like me, are no longer involved with a school, but know someone who is, please give him or her my message. We all need to know the truth about school operations today and not just swallow what the bosses tell us. All the kids now in school are our children or grandchildren who deserve high quality education, fair treatment, and our support.

I want to hear your experiences and opinions, and I will post them here!

P.S. If you are interested, the article I wrote earlier was published on August 26, 2017 and you should still be able to find it on this blog.

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