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Student-teacher links suffer with furloughs


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POSTED: Sunday, November 01, 2009

I've been a teacher for a long time and am planning to retire in three years. If I do that, the furlough days will dig a permanent hole in my retirement income. This doesn't make me happy when I remember the nights I spent in the yearbook room trying to finish deadlines, or the proms I chaperoned, or the operas I took kids to, or the hundreds and hundreds of letters of recommendation I have written over the years, from 30 to 45 on an average year.

On the other hand, I love my job and truly have enjoyed my life as a teacher. As a result, I hate furlough days on a number of levels. Teacher furlough days are not only tough financially, but also tough on education because they compress not just the regular curriculum, but also reduce the opportunities for teachers and students to connect out of the classroom.

My husband claims that school should focus only on academic learning, and never mind the unnecessary extras like dragging kids to see “;La Boheme”; or constructing robots on weekends.

I disagree.

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I think that it's the extra and so-called “;unnecessary stuff”; that marks a balanced education. I went to “;Carmen”; when I was in high school, and I am still passionate about opera and I love to share that passion with my students.

Did calculus make my life better? I think not. But the various after-hour activities and field trips, which did not help my talent or my test scores, opened windows into my soul, and those things have remained to enrich my life.

IT'S NOT THAT I don't value mathematics, but I also believe that in the real world, students need to learn social skills and the ability to work in teams, and have the time to discover what matters to them on a personal level. These are the first activities to take a hit when teachers and schools are limited in time and resources.

Why is it that so many people think that to educate 21st-century kids we only have to give them grammar and sums, and only if and when it isn't financially inconvenient for the taxpayers to do so?

Sure, we can send homework home for furlough days, but it won't help a student who needs to talk through his or her choices about college, or a child looking for support during a family divorce.

Teachers spend their lives, every day, not just teaching, but educating; not just instructing, but listening and caring, and offering friendship and support. Furlough days take away time and they steal interactions.

Teachers have been asked to curtail all field trips this year in favor of academic instruction, and directed not to have any kind of connection with school, or students, on furlough days. I support the necessity, but I grieve for what our students are losing. I don't like being asked to sacrifice my retirement income to help balance the state budget, but I like even less being directed to limit my interactions with my students.