Opinion: 10 Things To Consider As Another School Year Begins

By John Cabascango

  1. Teaching is not like volunteering for your child’s Rec. League sport.

Many parents will step up for a season to coach their child in baseball, soccer, basketball etc. They may not have extensive experience and training in the particular sport. They may not be great athletes. It doesn’t matter, because children at the rec. levels are supposed to have fun, get a snack and go home afterwards. Some children may grow into loving a sport and excelling but that takes time and some level of professional training. If you want professionals training your children you might support a profession that demands degrees and advanced degrees. (wait, there might already be such a process)

  1. Teaching is not what it’s portrayed as in the movies.

Who doesn’t want to see themselves as a young Antonio Banderas or Michelle Pfeiffer, with catchy music playing in the background. But in teaching, as in the rest of life, most people fit somewhere on the spectrum of normal. Even with today’s technology no one really has a soundtrack telling everyone how they should be feeling. In addition, successes in teaching and elsewhere are not neat and clean. Students don’t stand on their desks to express their loyalty to the principles they have learned. Some may get up on desks or tables but that is often addressed pharmaceutically.

  1. If a student wants to improve their reading, they have to read books.

All the testing in the world will only make slight improvements. Much like the piano student or runner, improvement comes through spending time doing an activity. Of course technique matters, but only if applied to extended activity. Unfortunately, when test scores are what matters, less actual reading is done. The focus on reading skills is so technical that most end up hating what they think is reading. It really is like a runner who just warms up constantly and a piano student who never does anything other than play scales. Real reading is like the game and the whole piece played. The triumph of technique is the death of reading. Unfortunately there is a great deal of money to be made in such technical pursuits.

  1. There is money in education, but most of it is in Educational Inc.

Big education companies market themselves like big pharma does. Solutions to serious problems are offered. These solutions offer the promise of real help, but without the horrifying fine print that is mumbled in medical commercials. If each silver bullet costs millions of dollars, then reinventing the wheel and marketing it to the panicked peasants is big business, with all of the pros and cons of any major corporate marketing venture.

  1. Being an administrator is not a promotion for a teacher. It’s a different job.

Administration is important, but it is a different job than teaching. The idea that these two jobs are a stepping stone process is about as predictable as assuming that a superstar player will be a great coach or a great coach will be a solid general manager. Have you seen what Michael Jordan has done to Charlotte?

  1. Your child’s teacher may not change your child’s life for the better in an obvious way.

If you think teachers should obviously change lives you may have put too much faith in something already addressed in point #2. In addition, valuable changes don’t always come with thunder and lightning, and most things that sound too good to be true are exactly that.

  1. Your child’s teacher most likely won’t scar your child.

Once again see #2, or some variation of it. It’s usually a good idea to step back before you go looking to cast someone as the villain in the story of your child’s life.

  1. Occasionally your child may actually listen to their teacher instead of you.

Don’t get too excited or threatened by the use of a teacher against you. Pre-teens and teens are in an oppositonal time of life. As a result, teachers and parents can easily be weaponized depending on the immediate need during the conflict. The winds of change in these conflicts turn quickly as do the loyalties that are pitted against each other. Don’t pick a side too quickly

  1. Many politicians at multiple levels don’t know what they are talking about. Or, perhaps they do.

Power corrupts, and what is more powerful than the fear mongering or inspirational speeches that deal with what we want for our children. Every parent’s worst nightmares and proudest emotions are tied to their kids. Those who need our votes will use our emotions for better or worse in their efforts to get elected. It would be a good idea to remember this when listening to the promises and apocalyptic warnings.

  1. It isn’t indoctrination if disagreement is allowed.

If there is a disagreement in class between teacher and student, or student and student and the idea being discussed is allowed to be pursued in terms of reading, research, presentation or writing, then indoctrination isn’t anywhere near the process. Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, or the ultimate trump card,the Nazis, didn’t allow debate. Allowing debate means the option of admitting wrong or changing one’s mind. If someone wants an education where no one can change their mind or challenge an idea, then indoctrination is the approach being pushed. Making a weak point, struggling with faulty logic, or not knowing how to debate is a part of this process. As a culture, we often prefer shouting, mocking, censoring and leaving nasty comments to actual debate.

John Cabascango is the author of Throwing Moses Under the Bus: A High School English Teacher Looks at the Ten Commandments, and Off the Rails: Evangelicals, Power and Politics. He is entering his twenty fourth year of high school teaching.


  1. 11. If you’re not willing to get involved with your child’s education (helping with homework, attending school events, participating in PTA, attending Board of Education & County commissioner meetings, and voting), then you’ve ceded control and you’ve got nothing to complain about.

  2. 12: allow your child to fail. Failure is supposed to promote perseverance and work ethic. Sometimes failure is the greatest teacher. Failure doesn’t necessarily mean getting an “F” sometimes getting a C,Dor even a B can be motivating. Well at least it’s supposed to.

    • And I’d suggest that failure may also point to the fact that not all children should be in school. Why force a child to attend 12+ years of schooling if they don’t want to (or can’t) be successful? As Judge Smails famously said, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”

      • I would say not all kids need to go to college. You aren’t going to call a doctor at 11 o’clock at night when your ac our plumbing breaks. Trade schools are just if not more valuable.

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