No Surprise: Trump Diminishes Teachers of the Year Ceremony

Teachers rarely receive national attention which is why the annual ceremony acknowledging all states’ Teacher of the Year honorees is so significant.

For 65 years, these gifted instructors have been showcased at the White House hosted by the President.

If you are a teacher, it is a moment to cherish.   This year, it was a moment to forget.

Last week, President Trump hosted the teachers in the crowded Oval Office, the favorite room of his where he greets paeans, remaining seated as if he was a king on his throne. Also in the room was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an anti-public education advocate, all making nice smiling for the pool cameras.

Remember, Trump lambasted public education in his inauguration speech as a system that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”   This came from the same paragraph lumping education with poverty, job loss, and crime as part of the “American carnage.”

Yet there he was reading from a TelePrompTer about how valuable teachers are.

The entire ceremony took barely five minutes.

Compare this to the forty minutes former President Barack Obama shared with last year’s winners.

Obama relished this annual event, treating it as more of a celebration than a static photo op.  Last year’s ceremony was held in the East Room to accommodate more people, with the teachers standing on risers so that they all are clearly seen.

Obama is announced at the same time as Jahana Hayes, the 2016 Teacher of the Year, allowing her the spotlight and the lectern first to deliver a four-minute speech, about the same amount of time given to this year’s entire ceremony.

Not only does he personally hand the Crystal Apple award to Hayes, but tells a story about her so that the public can gain an insight to what makes her such a special educator.

This year’s Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, lost among the crowded pack of educators surrounding Trump, wasn’t given an entrance, wasn’t allowed to give a speech, and had very little said about her.

Standing to Trump’s right, Trump barely looks up at her, quickly pats her arm, then awkwardly holds the Crystal Apple himself smiling at the cameras as if it were meant for him before giving it to Chaffee.

He doesn’t shake her hand, he doesn’t stand up to hand the award to her, he doesn’t say anything about her except her name, what she teaches, and where she works.

Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss discovered that very few relatives of the teachers were allowed in the Oval Office; most “who had traveled at their own expense for many hours to attend were left to wait in a building near the White House.”  Even Chaffee’s husband and daughter “were kept waiting in a hallway before being allowed to enter the Oval Office.”

In fact, the video does not appear on the official White House website link of “events” videos.

One video that is featured came a week earlier showing Trump welcoming this year’s Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots.  Their ceremony happened in a larger arena on the South Lawn with more observers and media in attendance.

Trump spent 16 minutes with the team, underscoring how some people care more about the champs on a football field than the champs in the classroom.

But not Obama as evidenced by what he said:

“Part of the reason this event is so important is for us to be able to send a message to future generations of teachers, to talented young people all across the country to understand this is a dream job; that this is an area . . . where you have the potential to make more of a difference than just about anything you can go into.”

If only Trump did his homework and plagiarized even a bit of Obama’s remarks as his wife did copying Michelle’s.  Then again, to paraphrase his comment about healthcare, who knew that honoring teachers could be so complicated?

Absence makes the mind grow flounder

It used to be that going to school on time every day was a given.   Only truly sick children missed school.

Not anymore.

Six million children missed at least three weeks of school in the 2013-14 school year, according to the U.S Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection report.  That equates to 13 percent of all students.

Think of a business that could operate effectively without 13 percent of its workforce.

The bad habits students practice in kindergarten through 12th grade cannot simply be altered like a light switch once they enter the job market.

Name one job where people get paid for not being there.

“Even the best teachers can’t be successful with students who aren’t in class,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. told reporters last June.

California has a Compulsory Education Law stipulating that “every child from the age of 6 to 18 be in school—on time, every day.”

A student’s education suffers when he is not in school.  Period.

There is a direct correlation between missing school and falling behind academically. According to the California Department of Education, “first grade students with 9 or more total absences are twice as likely to drop out of high school than their peers who attend school regularly.”

Last December, President Obama signed into law a revision of the No Child Left Behind act that requires for the first time that states report individual absences for all students.

It’s not just the learning that suffers when a student isn’t in a classroom.  Money is lost as well.

Schools derive much of their funding based on Average Daily Attendance or ADA.  In Glendale the ADA is $55 per student per day.  With an enrollment around 26,000, that adds up to $1.43 million if all students are present.

If 10 percent of students are absent for one day the entire year, that results in a loss of $143,000.  Multiply that by 180 school days and you have $25.7 million.  Quite a sum of money that could go towards hiring more teachers and funding more programs.

Last semester, I tracked the number of students present over a 78-day period and here are the results:

In my first period class, 25 percent of the time I had full attendance, second period had seven percent, third period had 17 percent, fifth period had 20 percent, and sixth period had 12 percent.

Looking at the numbers in a different way, 88 percent of the time I had at least one student absent in my Per. 6 class.   This makes it quite difficult for a teacher to maintain consistency in lesson planning as well as cooperative learning groups.

I had 25 students who had double-digit absences including one who had 24 (that’s a loss of 5 weeks of instruction in a 17-week period), plus five students with double-digit tardies (the highest 16).

When I returned to work last week, teachers were asked to do more to encourage students to get to class on time in order to decrease the number of tardies.   However, the bulk of the tardies come at the start of school; in other words, due to kids arriving late.

Unless teachers don Uber hats and pick up kids from their homes, the responsibility of getting children to school rests on the shoulders of parents.    Parents need to model to their children good work habits and work habit number one is getting to school every day and on time.