Successes merit attention

Sunday, May 23, 2004

By Mark Bowles

I have never watched "Boston Public" or "Stand and Deliver." TV and movie versions of the climate and culture of public schools have never interested me. Really knowing what it's like to be a teacher requires immersing oneself in the classroom.

(Invariably, comments I hear from patrons who come to our buildings for extended periods of time as aides, assistants or long-term volunteers start with, "I never knew ... .")

Looking at the act of teaching through the limited eyes of any media source, including newspaper articles, is a lot like trying to guess what an iceberg looks like from observing the part that one sees above the water.

When Callie Clark first approached me about doing an ongoing series on a new teacher, I was cautiously enthusiastic about the possibilities. As I read her recent e-mail inviting me to write this guest column at the conclusion of the series, I had mixed emotions. Clark is a talented writer and painted powerful images with her words, images with which all educators are familiar. Admittedly, many of the community members who spoke to me about the articles responded with support for the plight of schoolteachers in today's classrooms.

Like many of Hollywood's depictions of schools and schoolteachers, the Missourian's series, in my opinion, focused on a glass of water and saw it as half empty, and I am sad for the confusion and misrepresentation that may have resulted.

The articles dwelt extensively on negative student behaviors. Based on the amount of the articles devoted to those behaviors, it would be reasonable for readers to get the impression that most students behave similarly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Disruptive behaviors from a small fraction of our students mustn't distract us from acknowledging and celebrating that our hallways and classrooms are orderly and our students productive and well behaved.

Graduation last weekend is a perfect example of the successes and achievements of our students that should be getting the majority of the attention from our newspaper and community.

Educators visiting our buildings from around the state routinely speak in admiring and envious terms about our students, buildings, staff and programs.

To the extent that this series sensitized readers to trials and tribulations of teachers, I am grateful. The wonderful diversity of our school system reflects the richness of the diversity of our community and is, in my opinion, one of our district's most positive attributes.

Cape public schools continue to hold students to high expectations, and our students respond. I encourage all who would like to witness firsthand the quality of our staff and our students to plan now to visit our buildings when school resumes this fall and confirm it for themselves.

Mark Bowles is the superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District.

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