Friday, April 6, 2001
Guest Commentary Let's Get It Together
What goes around comes around and if you are an applicant to a town board you often keep coming around and around and around. Whether you are a homeowner, developer, or a church, you need approvals from two to eight boards or officials depending upon your project. These boards have competent staff with a mixture of parttime and full-time hours. Staff understanding of the ramifications of a proposal has often depended upon a spontaneous meeting at the copier, rather than any formal process that outlines the key issues.
In past years, land was less marginal, the pace of development was slower and our lives were simpler. Development in Carlisle has more regulation and involves complex land conditions such as ledge, steep slopes or wetlands. The staff in our town has responded professionally to this growing need and it is time we gave them a formal tool to support coordination.
It is time for Carlisle to develop a more holistic approach to land-use proposals through a formal land-use committee involving all the staff of land-use departments and boards. Although an applicant will potentially benefit from the coordination, the real winner will be the town. Each board and official will have a better understanding of which pressing issues are facing others, and better appreciate the implications of their decisions.
Ed. note: Susan Yanofsky is a former member of the Carlisle Planning Board and is currently a reporter for the Mosquito.
The Teacher Shortage
The current shortage of teachers has origins in demography, economics, and societal disrespect. The 1974 Concord-Carlisle High School enrollment of 1850 students decreased to nearly 800 by 1990. As teachers were laid off, many left the profession permanentlycausing a loss of nearly two generations of educators, This produced a bimodal age distribution within the CCHS faculty, whose senior members are now retiring.
The economic piece is perceived differently by teachers and non-teachers. Few professions are more demanding of time, energy, knowledge, insight, and character than teaching. However, teachers are generally viewed as being on the dole with cushy, undemanding jobs that just about anybody can perform. Because of this view, and the fact that local taxes seem to be the only ones we can control, teachers are chronically under-compensated. I'll never forget the words of a former chairperson of the Timberlane (NH) Regional School Committee, who was elected on an expense-cutting platform, He accurately reflected the views of that community when he stated that "Winners get raises, losers don't...and teachers are losers."
Lack of respect for teachers and their profession is rampant. There is no educator on the Massachusetts State Board of Education. (Although state law guarantees student representation on the board, teachers have no such guarantee.) When ed reform was starting, distinguished teachers were invited to participate in hearings involving board members and university personnelonly to have their microphones rudely shut off as they voiced their views.
Last December, a CCHS science teacher left her position to accept an industrial sector position that tripled her salary. The response from a family member was, "At last!! You're finally getting a real job!" Upon learning that another CCHS teacher was an Ivy League graduate, a student recently asked, "How come you're just a teacher?" Another student remarked to her teacher, "You're really smart! What are you teaching for?" And, upon being challenged for misbehavior in the hallway, still another retorted, "I don't have to listen to you. You're only a teacher." One might toss these comments aside as thoughtless remarks of young people. The reality is that they reflect the messages they receive from adults at home, from politicians, and from the media.
Disrespect also surfaces in more subtle ways. Parents think nothing of pulling their children from school for Caribbean and Disney World vacations. Every one of these incidents is an insult to teachers. They convey a clear message that what teachers do is less important than a day in the sun. And, of course, there is our governor-to-be, who seems to think that anybody with a little Internet training can be an effective tutor.
Some propose to alleviate the teacher shortage by recruiting military retirees and those making mid-career changes. The culture shock that includes a combination of low pay, enormous workload, and the daunting task of connecting with young people invariably results in the failure of these well intentioned but unprepared individuals. With rare exceptions, to succeed as a teacher, one has to start young and remain connected with young people. Just last fall, an industrial sector Ph.D. who had undergone Harvard's teacher conversion program and passed the state certification exam was hired by an area high school. He quit after only a few weeks in the classroom. The pressure, compensation, and disrespect accorded by students and parents simply did not match.
Until American society properly values those who have the knowledge, skills, and temperament that quality teaching mandates, and then demonstrates this with markedly improved compensation and genuine respect, the dearth of new teachers will continue.
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