It doesn’t take a genius to understand the definition of common sense: good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.
With such a simple definition, why is it so difficult to actually use common sense? Good sense, sound judgment and practical matters are all subjective matters. This is where opinion comes into play and quite simply, opinion in our society is driven by money and power, so common sense better grow some wings because it will be tossed out the window.
I am not arguing that common sense is perfectly clear all the time. I mean, Hitler thought he was making sound judgment. Granted, there are complicated matters in life and discussions are necessary. However, going into the teaching profession, I figured my focus was pretty clear: to ensure the mental, social, and academic health and advancement of my students. Of course, I made that definition up using good sense, so I suppose even this is debatable. Teachers and administrators like to say things like, “We are here for the kids.” I figured that if we knew our goal (the kids), we would at every turn make common sense decisions. We would use prudence, discernment, wisdom and insight to drive our decision-making. It seems easy enough, right? As a teacher or administrator, I guide my actions by simply asking, “Is this in the best interest of the students?” As it turns out, it is not that easy. Although the number one variable in the success of a child is the teacher, who makes direct contact, there are many decisions behind the scenes that affect the jobs of teachers. This is the part on which I would like to focus.
Budgets have always been a central issue in education, but recently it has become the main one. Teachers are being asked to do more with fewer resources. And by resources I am referring to anything an educator uses to meet their goals. Although every district has a different ‘motto’, we are all after the same thing, to improve the mental, social, and academic health and advancement of students. We want them to learn. Since money is directly tied to resources, I find it interesting how money is blatantly mismanaged. I will admit that I’m not an administrator and do not have direct experience with budgets but I think sometimes when we step away from a problem, we can see things that are right in front of us. I have seen an incredible misuse of financial resources in education, resulting in teachers given fewer educational resources and being paid significantly less than they are worth. Most people I meet, when told that I am a teacher first say how honorable of a profession it is and then claim we should be paid more. In other words, the financial situation is clearly seen by all, not just those of us in the trenches.
At this point, I would like to point out considerations I feel constitute ‘practical matters’ in how finances are misused. I understand that not everyone will agree with my views as we all have various ideas of what is practical, but this is my blog, so…
I have worked in a few districts where Superintendents sent out emails asking staff to provide feedback as to how the school district could save money. Years ago I would have responded, but I have learned that the ‘vocal minority’, as some colleagues and myself have been labeled, are typically ousted for opening our mouths against the powers that be. What Superintendents want to know is how can we save money by doing what looks good on the outside, not by following common sense principals, so I do not bother wasting my time or anyone else’s time anymore as I know my thoughts simply fall on not ‘deaf’ ears but on ears that belong to people who do not have the backbone to take a stand and make change even if it is not the norm. In other words, I think administrators have good intentions but they are concerned about something other than ‘the best interest of the student’, which is directly related to providing teachers with the resources they need to teach effectively.
So let us take a look at a typical day and see where we can identify some financial issues. Arriving to school, I walk into my classroom and like most people I probably have to turn on lights. However, there is always an emergency light that is on 24 hours a day. Of course, this is probably a ‘regulation’ in most buildings and lacks common sense. I am sure some fire marshal or building inspector would love to tell me why emergency lights are needed, but the only thing an emergency light does after everyone is gone is…wait, nothing. Nobody is at school. Yet the emergency lights are on. School is not in session during the evenings so I am confused. I’m sure there is a way to install a timer so that emergency lights are turned off once everyone is gone and are turned on once everyone arrives. Come to think of it, I think that is called a motion sensor.
I typically hope for a classroom with windows for multiple reasons. First of all, it’s depressing to not see outside and secondly, we have this thing called the Sun and it provides natural healthy light, as opposed to the detrimental affects of fluorescent lighting. In my last classroom I had large windows, which allowed me to use that Sun for the entire year, without ever having to burn fossil fuels. I controlled the overbearing light of the Sun with an incredible invention called ‘blinds’. This allowed me to let more light in on cloudy days and block the sun on bright days. I have a Masters degree so I know how to work them. I also had two lamps in the room to provide light in the areas where the amazing natural sunlight does not reach. In two years, I have had exactly zero kids mention that they wanted the regular lights on. When testing day came around, I was told to turn on the lights and all the kids hated it, not to mention that the lights were not needed.
Another situation related to electrical use has to do with computers and peripherals that are used in classrooms. More and more we are seeing an increase of technology in the classroom, including some rooms with 30 student devices, 2 teachers computers, a printer, and a video projector. Sure, we can argue that individually, a computer pulls very little current, just as a fluorescent light bulb, but add up all the lights and technology in one district and the numbers are staggering. I’ve seen classrooms with video projectors left on overnight as well as 30 computers in a cart left on and plugged in overnight. Again, a simple solution would be to cut electricity to all classrooms since many teachers simply forget to unplug devices each night. The counter argument is that student laptops will not be charged. Again, our incredible advancements in technology would allow us to turn on electricity a few hours before students arrived to charge up devices.
Sometimes after the school day I catch a glimpse of the cleaning crew outside cleaning walkways. I’ve seen gas powered blowers used to move small pepples, leaves, and dust. I’ve also seen, on many occasions, someone cleaning off the walkways with a hose. Before I can comment on water usage, I have to ponder why anyone is doing this in the first place. When did it become customary to clean walkways to the point of removing all debris? I understand vacuuming insides of buildings once in a while but outside is….well…outside. What is our concern here? Are we concerned about a lawsuit from a child tripping on a pebble? I am pretty sure no kids are concerned about leaves, dust, and a few pebbles on the sidewalk. Again, we have a common sense solution; they are called shoes. What it really seems to signify is a concern with the visual aspect of a campus. In other words, if a visitor comes to a campus, we could not possibly allow the sidewalks to be littered with things from our natural environment. How insane would it be for pebbles to find their way from nature onto concrete sidewalk? Now let us move to the energy aspect of it. A blower moves stuff from one area to another so that is not very efficient and it puts dust in the air; no common sense here, simply a complete waste of energy. Then there are times when the sidewalks are watered to remove all dust, which lasts for a few hours. I’m sure by morning, it is dusty again. We live in the desert so someone please tell me where is the sense in watering cement? Let me say it again, “watering cement.” Let that phrase settle in for a moment and if you do not laugh or cry, something is wrong. I am not a gardener but I am pretty sure if you water cement you will never grow a tomato plant. If you really want to be efficient, use a shop vac. Suck up all the dust, leaves, and pebbles and walk across the street and toss it into the desert so it can rejoin its family. But really, the best response to our infected sidewalk situation is that there is no need to do either of those. We should be embarrassed to be caught watering cement, especially when school districts are having budget issues.
Let’s continue with the water waste. When in Rome…you know the rest. We live in the desert so I find it fascinating that we plant grass. Actually, fascinating is a nice way to say I think growing grass is ignorant. Learn more about why growing grass is pointless, detrimental and insane. In my last district we had a huge patch of grass in the middle of campus with very few trees. The grass was usually in decent shape but it takes a lot of maintenance and it seemed like at least half of the year students were told not to walk on the grass so that it could grow. Once again, it is there for the visual aspect. It has nothing to do with student achievement. We teach students to not judge a book by its cover but when it comes down to it, we are putting money into our own book cover instead of the contents, our students. Instead of worrying about ridiculous things like planting, fertilizing, watering and cutting grass, I could think of 100 things maintenance staff could be doing and about 100 more that could be used with the money saved by not growing grass. As educators, we should be ashamed of ourselves for not being financially efficient nor being leaders in areas like environmental sustainability. We are educators. We are leaders. We should start acting like it. People look to us to do the right thing. What is the common sense solution? Stop planting grass. If you want to waste water, why not waste it on fruit trees or a vegetable garden?
I have only mentioned a few areas of concern. However, I would argue that using common sense would add up to a significant amount. In the past year, districts have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars updating locks on doors to keep children safe, as if that will do anything against a shooter. They spent a ridiculous amount of money painting numbers on rooftops in case helicopters have to land there for emergency situations. Our fear-based society is draining us financially and emotionally and we do not have the guts to stand up and say that it makes no sense. The fact is that the educational system, being a microcosm of society, is failing as a whole. And as I mentioned in a previous blog, instead of looking at the real issues, we are focused on what the perception is of our school. Education a sinking ship with a huge hole in the hull, but all we do is buy a new sail each year; and not just a regular sail because we have to have the newest sail with that special material so we all can feel proud of how it looks as if that will change student achievement.
I could keep going but I think my point has been made. We have lost sight of common sense decision-making and it makes me ill. We ignore solutions right in front of us and are in fact, throwing common sense right out the window. My hope is that as a whole, education could become the leaders in ethical and common sense decision-making and become the leaders we all hope to be.
ps—I want to add that although my outlook may be taken as negative, I want to acknowledge that there are amazing things happening in classrooms because of the dedication and leadership of teachers. However, more and more I am hearing about teachers leaving their profession so I think we should be looking at our educational system with a different lens instead of making the same mistakes.