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Living with the assault on education

May 20, 2012 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

It began in the 1990s, and our schools have never been the same.

We were crowded into a kindergarten classroom on a warm Friday afternoon. Shoshoni had just changed its school schedule to lengthen every school day except Friday, which would be an early out every week at 1:35p.m.

It seemed on the surface like a great idea. Students often missed Friday for athletics and other activities. The thought was that the modified schedule would increase student attendance overall.

Initially the staff would have every other Friday afternoon off as well, a great benefit for most of us who commuted the 23 miles from Riverton each day to teach. It was difficult to get a haircut, make a dental appointment, or schedule anything else when you left for work at 7 a.m. and returned after practice at 6:30 p.m. each day.

With the schedule in place, the administration sprang a little surprise on us. That Friday we sat for two hours in chairs designed for 5- and 6-year olds listening as an "expert" droned on about something called outcome based education.

When we were finally released from the ordeal I asked my friend Tim Ervin a question that would become traditional nearly every Friday afternoon for the next decade.

"What was that about?" I asked. Tim smiled and said, "It was about two hours."

Our exchange summed up the views most teachers held as the war on education began in the dark days of the early 1990s.

Metaphorically, it seemed as if a cloud of doom had descended on the once bright world of education. A decade or two before, we survived the inane rhetoric of the education college only to have the same nonsense re-emerge in our mandated training sessions.

Teaching children became secondary. We were not allowed to miss an in-service day. Administrators actually instructed us to take a day off from teaching rather than miss the weekly trainings.

In the process the global solution to why Johnny couldn't read and Susie couldn't add was made apparent: If you forced the adults to attend meetings all the time, then tested the kids constantly, they would somehow magically get a viable education.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but that was and remains the procedure in public schools across America. Shoshoni was such a great school, I often wonder why the "experts" had to meddle.

One day at football practice, a player told us a girl in the junior class was quitting school. After practice we went to her house to talk her into coming back. Her mom met us at the door.

"You guys are too late. There were six teachers here already. She'll be back tomorrow."

Genuine concern, a little secret you can't get in a canned program or measure on yet another standardized test.

The problem with the continued annoyance of in-service training wasn't the time and money wasted by the district, it was the venomous atmosphere it produced in the staff.

It became easy to forget the children in the blind hatred of yet another wasted afternoon of throwing yarn across the room to learn that gay men don't get AIDS, learning that everyone has the same exact abilities, that a work ethic is something to be avoided, and the dreaded queen mother of pseudo-education fads: self-esteem. It seemed the onslaught would never end until we all got our "minds right."

As a whole we still did our best with the kids, but it was never the same. The constantly changing band wagon left us hoping forlornly that we could just get off and teach again.

As the century drew to a close, I began to think of changing directions. Maybe things would be different at another school while teaching another discipline.

I took my first computer class on a Sigma 7 back in 1977 studying Fortran at UW and became enamored with PCs when I took an interest class from Dave Hamaker in Lusk in 1982 on the Apple II+. From 1993-96 I earned an MA in computer science from George Washington University and the opportunity to use it, along with my knowledge gained from running TL Computing with Mike Lieberman came in the fall of 1999 at the James H. Moore Career Center in Riverton.

Over the next four years I taught Microsoft Office, A+ Computer training, Dream Weaver web design and was a certified CCNA trainer for Cisco Systems. I had the chance to coach track at Riverton High School and junior high football again with my friend Tom Zingarelli. The commute changed from 44 miles round trip to just one, and the pay was better.

But a soft spot for Shoshoni remained. It's really never left.

I finally decided to leave the classroom for good in April of 2003 when my old friend Trent Blankenship, Wyoming's new Superintendent of Public Instruction, offered me a position with the Wyoming Department of Education. By June I was traveling across the state working with Tandberg compressed video systems, training teachers to deliver instruction across the state and even across the world with just the manipulation of a few buttons.

The job ended when Trent resigned and moved to Alaska, but I'll always appreciate the knowledge I gained in the position. I was much more appreciative of the time it allowed. I was able to attend son Brian's games and daughter Staci's concerts and festivals. In their final years of high school I never missed an activity that they were in, even following the Wyoming band to Pasadena for the Rose Parade.

But the gig ended in July of 2005, and I needed a job. A great one emerged as if my magic from an old foe on the hardwood. I was off to my third and final career.

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