Friday, August 31, 2001
A letter to my son, a teacher embarking on a new career
Throughout the summer, as my son was finishing up a master's degree in education and about to start a job as a high school math teacher in the fall, my attention was drawn to newspaper articles and radio and TV news features concerning some of the problems facing American teachers at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As I compose a letter in my head to my son, here are some of the questions I plan to ask him.
Tell me about the superintendent (or principal) of your school. How old is he and how long has he been on the job? I read that more and more administrators are taking early retirement as the demands of the job become overwhelming. Is he comfortable setting standards of behavior in the school? Is he able to give adequate support to his teachers, who in some schools find only 20 minutes of classroom time to teach, while the remainder is spent on classroom management?
And what about the teachers at your school? Yesterday on National Public Radio, it was reported that only 48 percent of teachers in the state of New Jersey intended to make teaching their lifelong career. Hopefully, the atmosphere at your school provides an environment that is conducive to creative teaching and gives a good teacher positive feedback about the value of his or her work. With the salaries that starting teachers make, a positive, supportive environment is the least a teacher can hope for.
Here in Boston, one of the Globe's articles on the front page of Monday morning's paper featured the article "Back-to-school shocking Students' racy fashions have parents, educators in a bind." Administrators and some parents throughout the Boston area and neighboring suburbs are concerned about the skin-revealing fashions promoted by the fashion industry for increasingly younger female pupils. Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, and even stores like J. C. Penney seem to be calling the shots.
When parents and schools in our society are at the mercy of big-time advertisers and marketers, there is something drastically wrong. The American public wants better schools for their children. Schools are a place to learn without the distractions of students in inappropriate clothing. Some schools are looking to a dress code to solve the problem. Others question the legality of a dress code with respect to First Amendment rights. Do you have to address similar problems out there in Iowa? If so, how are you handling them?
Now, I believe we are back to the basic question, who is in charge of setting the standards of behavior in our schools? I look forward to hearing from you. Hopefully, you can answer some of my questions.
Imaging a Life
As a kid, I loved cameras. At six, I started with an awful little "Donald Duck" model that produced badly-focused pictures. I moved up to a Kodak Baby Brownie with a better lens, then to a Brownie Hawkeye with a flash attachment. Wow. It could take time exposures and had a neat little close-up lens. Later on, I graduated to a Pentax K-1000, which did just about everything I wanted to do. But I eventually tired of photography; the act of taking pictures stood between me and my memories. I recalled more when I didn't photograph. I didn't have the darkroom one needs to transform snapshots into memorable images.
Last fall, I bought myself a digital camera. I had been playing with a friend's low-resolution point-and-shoot Olympus, and I loved it. I wanted more; I was ready to move again from the Baby Brownie to the Brownie Hawkeye level. I bought another Kodak not the most sophisticated, but the best I could afford.
A digital camera is to the trusty Pentax as a computer is to a typewriter. The partnership between camera and mind completely shifts and becomes more natural. Photography no longer stands in the way of memory. My new camera leaves me free to experiment wildly, and I throw out the inevitable bad shots (the vast majority) without worrying about film. My computer is my darkroom; I edit and transform and tweak and improve on my screen. I have accumulated stacks of specialized papers for printing. My childhood passion has sprung back to life.
Now I have a project; I take one picture a day for an electronic album. As this photo-a-day project spins out, I find that the pictures are creating a startling image of an ongoing life. Old albums of snapshots were filled with smiling groups of people, but not of the subtle moments that the camera missed. The daily photos may represent important moments, they may be the most "artistic" of a day's batch, or they may be only a desperate late-night shot of my cat, taken to fulfill the mission.
There are a lot of flowers daffodil sprouts emerge from snow, then forsythia and rhododendrons and lily-of-the-valley. Carlisle is a beguiling subject; there's Town Meeting, Old Home Day, the annual Bird Walk and a ConsCom meeting. Foss Farm, Greenough, and the sheep at Towle take their place alongside an aerial shot of Saskatchewan farms or the streets of Deadwood, South Dakota.
The daily photos are a mosaic of little moments a fraction of a second per day that add up to a real life. The First Religious Society posted a mini-sermon in the rotary recently "How you spend your days is, after all, how you spend your life." My collection of photos transforms images into a flow of life. In the end, it's a remarkable revelation of a basically unremarkable life.
I recommend the exercise to anyone who wants to step back from the daily routine and see a bigger picture. It takes far less time than a journal, and a camera creates its images anywhere, quickly and unobtrusively.
© +YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito