Students are buzzing with excitement. The sound of lockers slamming shut and the occasional outburst of laughter fill the halls. There is a mixed sense of anxiety, comfort, fear and happiness. The first bell is about to ring and my first students begin to filter into the classroom. I greet these new strangers as they enter through the door. They find their seats and break into a drone of conversation and wait for the bell to signal the beginning of the new school year. The bell rings and the first class begins.
This was the scene 17 years ago in a small rural school in South Texas. It was my first day of teaching. Since then, first days of school have not changed much. In fact, it I doubt it has changed much over the past 50 years or more. Styles have changed. Music has changed. Television and movies are different. Technology has advanced so fast that it makes my head spin. By and large though, kids have not changed. School is still a social institution that brings communities together. It is a place parents trust to leave their kids every day. Local businesses, police, firemen, clergy and government leaders all pull together for the purpose of educating the kids. I'll bet that even in the days of the one room schoolhouse, it was a center that brought all these people together.
There have been some changes in education over the years. My first year of teaching was the first year that students were not allowed to walk the stage to graduate because they did not pass a state exam. It was the beginning of high stakes testing. An expectation of what is to be taught and how to teach it has certainly changed. Technology and tools for teaching change so fast that each year there is some new tool we have to learn how to use. We compete for kids' attention. They are used to fastpaced, interactive multimedia. They have iPods and cell phones. They no longer pass notes. They text. Parents rely on communicating with their kids using cell phones (often during school). Grades are done on computer and parents can, in real time, see grades as they are entered into the system. Oh, and let us not forget e-mail. How did we ever survive before e-mail? Everybody e-mails everybody. We e-mail to ask a question when we could easily accomplish this task by walking 100 feet down the hall.
Education will always have this dichotomy of stability and change. As educators, and we are all educators, we need to balance the two. I have had the privilege the last three years to work closely with math teachers in Corpus Christi. We worked together often times late into the evening searching for ways to engage our students. We would brainstorm ideas on how to utilize the new technologies to help us make math relevant to students in today's world. We would have teams of teachers meeting to solve problems. We trusted each other and developed an atmosphere of collegiality. I traveled from school to school where I was able to observe a multitude of teaching styles and innovative strategies. Teachers are still hard at work and students are still behaving like students. There are good days and bad days. Southside schools operate very similarly to westside schools. Large school's classrooms look like small school's classrooms. Kids are kids.
Then a fortunate twist of fate occurred. A position opened up in Port Aransas and I was ready to get back to the classroom. I applied and was rewarded with a position in the high school. My first observation was this is a bit smaller than other schools where I've taught. It is a relaxed atmosphere. This is going to be easy! Well, seven weeks later and suffering from sleep depravation, I can attest that it is anything but easy. In a small school you have to wear many hats. There are a host of different responsibilities, each of which offer different challenges, and therefore more rewards. That is the beauty of being a part of a small district -- the many riches it brings. A person does not get lost in the shuffle. The community rallies around the schools and the children it serves. We all share in events that support our schools. Halloween parades, talent shows, sock hops and, of course, Mardi Gras in October are all examples of this. It is rare that a community raises over $50,000 to directly fund programs that directly affect teaching in the classroom.
Times and technology are continuously changing. We need to prepare our students for the ever-changing world ahead of them. At the same time we need provide the stability of a safe place where kids can learn, parents can trust, and the community can get involved. Nowhere that I have seen exemplifies these traits better than Port Aransas. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.