Judy Rae

Sandbox: Contributing Credits

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Dear ER:

The end of school is at hand and the air is going to be filled for a couple of weeks with student recognition, honors, and awards. I would like to suggest that this also ought to be a time to reflect on the contributions made by the faculty and staff who worked with those student throughout the year.  If someone at your youngster’s school did an outstanding job or went out of his or her way to show a particular kindness or concern for your child, I want to encourage you to drop a note to the principal.

Educational researcher Ted Sizer observed once that we reward achievement three ways in America, and that two of them are not available to those who work in schools.

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First, we reward with money. Look at salaries drawn by actors, professional athletes, and corporate CEOs. We can’t give money to outstanding school personnel because of fixed salary schedules and the notion that a bonus would be a gift of public funds.

Second, we reward with autonomy. Who would tell Steven Spielberg that he can’t make a movie about anything he wants? Or tell the folks at Apple that they can’t think out of the box in pursuit of some new device?  But school people cannot be given autonomy. The state sets the curriculum, the texts and materials are mandated, the district defines clerical and maintenance job descriptions.

So that leaves only the third, which is recognition. That we can do and should do, but don’t do enough of. Let your principal know what a positive influence teachers have been has been in your student’s life, or just say thank you for some one-time thoughtfulness.

And go beyond the classroom. If the school nurse, or a secretary or clerk, a cafeteria worker, custodian or gardener went out of his or her way to help your child please let the principal know about that kindness and concern. I worked for 23 years as a teacher and principal at Mira Costa High School and know of innumerable instances where classified staff members showed true concern for and generosity to students and no one ever heard about it.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that the happiness is made up of minute fractions. So is the life of a school. If someone, anyone, at your youngster’s school made a special contribution to your child’s happiness or success this year in some particular way – large or small – those contributions should be recognized.

It only takes a minute to send the email or an actual letter.  

Gary Hartzell

Manhattan Beach


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