Food for Thought

Recently, a local FB group had an interesting discussion about cafeteria food and time allotted for student lunches.  Most of the comments noted amount of food wasted, what was consumed, and how long students had to eat. Full disclosure: I retired from teaching in June and, while I no longer observe these things first hand, I am fairly certain nothing has changed in the last six months. lunchphoto2

Many posters and parents noted that their child(ren) are allowed just 15 minutes to a) arrive at the cafeteria, b) make it through the food line, c) eat and d) clean up for the next group.  Unfortunately, this is pretty much the norm in most schools. My fourth graders had that same timeframe for their lunch experience last year and the year before that. Although it didn’t happen too frequently, there were days when the line in the cafeteria was so slow that the kids were just sitting down to eat when I arrived from my own lunch break to pick the students up.

What would be a reasonable time for student lunches? In a newsletter from Harvard School of Medicine titled Why Eating Slowly May Help You Feel Full Faster (link here), outlines why and how, but the short answer? 20 minutes. So those 15 minute allocations for the cafe experience are already 5 minutes short on the eating end.

The whole time-on-task environment is overtaking the educational day. It takes away the teachable moment, the socialization of recess, and now healthy eating habits. Can’t someone come up with an out-of-the-box solution so kids can at least eat the food in front of them?


We Reap What Ed. Policy Has Sown

So this week’s head-scratching story of Ahmed Mohamed and his engineering project, a clock, brings us to the” why”.  As in why didn’t anyone recognize the use of a circuit board to make a clock in a high school engineering project.  IMG_1530

There are, of course, the deeper, darker parts of this story. Prejudice, poor judgements, all had a large role in this student’s treatment. Deny if you must, but had this object been a real incendiary device, the school would have evacuated immediately without waiting around for someone to make a definitive call on what it was.

But there is, for me another undercurrent that impacted this event.  Why didn’t the school, i.e., the teacher, recognize that this was not a bomb, that it was a physical science/engineering project?

For most of the last 20 years that I taught in public schools, science was not part of the school day.  That’s right – no time for science. Or social studies. Several years ago, there was a superintendent in my school district who told us to teach science through reading. Seriously. Sorry kids, no explorations for you.

Time in the day that might have been spent teaching science or social studies was allocated to improving reading, writing, and math scores. Or test preparation.  To be fair, districts have begun to recognize that teaching science and social studies is essential to a good education and so, for the last 2 years, we have had district mandates for including actual science and social studies (experiments, labs, simulations – not “just reading about it”). Schools struggle to incorporate STEM and STEAM and social studies into school days, but the damage of ignoring these subjects has already been done.

Is there any question that, after 20 years of being ignored, our students – some of whom are now teachers – don’t have a basis in science to recognize when a clock is just a clock?

There Are Consequences

We teach students that there are consequences for their actions and choices. Well, there should be consequences for the INaction of adults as well.

Teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers and custodial workers have been without a contract in Lowell for over 450 days. My understanding – as I am recently retired, I no longer attend union informational meetings – is that this is driven by several factors. Included in the list of factors would be cancelled and perpetually postponed meetings of the negotiating teams. That in itself surely does not indicate that contracts are of high – or actually any – priority.

I’ve heard the reports of concessions, not the specifics. However, it is an election year; it would not be unreasonablefrontboard1 to think some who are negotiating the contracts with the Unions would like to make a grand political statement.

With tight municipal budgets, no one is expecting exorbitant monetary increases, like the 15% pay raise I learned of for a first-year hire at a private corporation. And just as a point of interest, even retirees (not from this past June, but all prior retirees) received a cost of living raise of 3% from the Commonwealth’s Teacher Retirement Board.  (The details and the history of which are found here.)

I am concerned by the reports of demands in the negotiations. No, I don’t know specifics, but asking for additional time (longer days? less preparation? longer school years?), giving back previously negotiated benefits, those things represent a disrespect for the talented people who make this school system one of the best achieving urban districts in Massachusetts.

One financial impact of this is that, hard-earned pensions are calculated based upon a salary rate that has not changed for 450 days. For those who may not know, pension benefits are based on a formula which includes an average of three highest years of earning (for most teachers, that would be the last 3 years of service). Thus, the pension that recent retirees have earned will be impacted for the rest of their lives. That’s not insignificant. Nor is it fair.

The consequence?  I am a registered voter who is doing due diligence. I am watching the field of candidates for school and city offices. The consequence of inaction, will indeed be action.

Walking Manhattan, 02 September 2015

This week, in place of starting a new school year as I have done for the past 30 years, I escaped for a mini-break to Manhattan. We purposely timed this trip to coincide with the first days of school in hope that a distraction would, well… distract me.

One of our days in Manhattan was a walking day. We started at the Brooklyn Bridge, walked across toward Manhattan and then through lower Manhattan to the site of the World Trade Center.

Over 30 years ago, we visited New York and the observation tower of the World Trade Center. It was a magnificent structure and I remember feeling it sway with the wind.

Standing on the site of the towers today, viewing the reflecting pools and WTC Memorial is an emotional experience. I spotted this poignant reminder that those who died that day just had the misfortune of going to work on an ordinary September morning, or as I discovered later by looking up this name, finishing up after an extra night’s work.

WTC Memorial

Rest peacefully, Norbert Szurkowski.