American Education: Elements Overlooked

It’s an element that can no longer be ignored, as we have come to live in a world where technology is as almost as common as eating or drinking. Okay, maybe not as important as eating or drinking, but technology has become apart of our everyday world, and the American education system is clearly no exception.

Technology is no longer an element that is overlooked in education, but rather embraced and accepted. It has made learning and teaching easier for both teachers and students. So if technology can officially be agreed on and checked off the list of educational development, what aspects of education are still being overlooked?

Obviously the American education system will always have flaws. The real key to help identifying these flaws is looking at education elements that aren’t necessarily examined or reviewed to the degree they should be.

We all know the basics, kids will be taught from k-12 basic subjects such as math, English, science, etc..

Depending on what state you reside in, various electives will be offered once hitting a certain point (usually very basic ones in middle school, and expanded options in high school). We all get this very simple structured setup that has been going on for decade after decade. This simple structure usually is examined on an annual basis (state pending), and usually tweaks are made when seen as necessary (example: integration of technology).

While it’s great the education system has been modified many times in terms of basic structure and offerings, are some elements within education today being consistently overlooked?

The review process seems very one-dimensional and it could be a huge reason why America is falling behind to other developed nations in education quality.

So what exact elements are being overlooked? It’s a great question that many don’t think to ponder.

So I sat down with four separate education professionals as they each gave me their point of view from their specific role within the system.

The first element that is probably the most overlooked in education today is substitute teaching. Did you know if you have 60 college credits you can walk into a school, and declare yourself a substitute teacher in the state of New Jersey?

Did you also know that the only required qualifications for a New Jersey substitute teacher are the college credits, no criminal record, and a substitute license (which can easily be attained if the first two qualifications are met).

Mrs. Christina Sheehan, who is a part-time substitute teacher, explains her basic thoughts on the current substitute teaching structure.

“They pretty much let any ‘joe-schmoe,’ who maybe has never worked with kids become a substitute, and I think that should matter. You are teaching… It also varies by state, for example in PA, you must have teaching degree, in NJ it’s not required.”

Ok, so they surely let the substitute teacher know the lesson plan, or at least what grade a sub might be teaching, right? Wrong.

“I would walk in, and half the time I wouldn’t know what grade I had until I actually got into the classroom. So in terms of lesson plans, and actually teaching; it can be frustrating,” Mrs. Sheehan added.

And we get it, a substitute teacher is there for a day, maybe two tops, but maybe the reason expectations for substitutes are so low is because they are basically thrown into a fire blind.

Mrs. Sheehan continued,

“unfortunately, there are probably substitutes out there that aren’t doing good jobs. The screening process is a huge problem, and probably should be reviewed in certain states… You are putting trust in someone without an education background to come in and teach these kids; even it is only for a day or two.”

With a format like this, substitute expectations can only reach a certain point, and unfortunately those expectations are quite low for the most part.

Another element that gets overlooked in schools today is resources and aids for special needs children. Luckily, over the past decade or so, public schools have emphasized the need to have distinctive resources for these children. Things like teachers’ aids, special programs, and a vast plethora of external resources have been made available to attempt to help all kids learn to the best of their ability.

Dana DePasquale and Debbie Sokalski are two current teachers’ aids who were kind enough to chime in their thoughts on current schools’ special needs programs.

Ms. DePasquale works for a private special needs school as a one-on-one aid at the children’s institute in Livingston, NJ. She explained to us what a typical day is like for her, as well as the toughest daily challenges she might face.

“It’s a very hands on job. I meet her (student) at the door, I follow her around to her locker, to all her classes, and help keep her get organized with her school work, as well as create a specific behavioral plan.”

Mrs. DePasquale explained that a behavior plan is designed specifically for each child, and the idea is to change the student’s behavior for the better throughout the day.

“This job isn’t for the faint hearted. Kids pull your hair, they kick & scream, bang their heads against lockers. So when I say it’s really hands on, I’m not kidding.”

So because this job is definitely one of the toughest in any educational setting, we expect candidates to be well qualified and trained, right? Not necessarily…

“I think some people who haven’t worked in this field before aren’t trained enough. That’s the only thing I see being overlooked. It’s hard to come into an environment and do things you were never taught. Like data collection, visual supports, and things like that,” Informed DePasquale.

“Patience is by far the most important trait you can have with this job. A lot of students have processing issues, so to respond to a basic question may even take up some time… You can’t ask the same question twice because you’ll be waiting longer and just cause even more confusion,” Mrs. DePasquale said.

Mrs. Debbie Sokalski, a teachers’ aid in Bedminster, NJ concurs that patience is the most vital trait any special needs aid must have.

When asked what the most important trait Mrs. Sokalski quickly replied,

“Patience. You need patience. Hands down it’s the most important quality one can have for this job.”

Unlike Mrs. DePasquale, Mrs. Sokalski works for a public school in Bedminster. So instead of the entire school with a specifically designed program, it’s confined to one classroom of around ten students.

“I’m a ‘Power Professional’ for Bedminster school district, which is basically a different way of saying, teachers aid… A lot of them have certain developmental issues. We create activities like circle time, educational activities, and basically try to have a set a routine.”

“Now another key trait to have is flexibility. While we create a set schedule and routine, things don’t always go according to plan, so a key is to be flexible and understand how to go forward. And again, everyday our activities change, so some things might be harder to do than others.”

When asked what she felt was most overlooked when it came to the program she too mentioned the overall screening process of who is actually hired.

“We have subs come in, and they won’t know what to do. A kid will need any type of hands-on assistance, and they won’t do anything because they weren’t told it was in the job description.” Mrs. Sokalski said.

It certainly seems as a whole, special needs programs are being embraced to a greater degree at corresponding schools. We see plenty of one-on-one aids, and even schools dedicated to making tailored programs for these kids.

Both Mrs. DePasquale and Mrs. Sokalski both agreed programs as these could place a larger emphasis on the overall hiring process, which absolutely makes sense.

This brings us to our final element: Are students still taught one-dimensionally?

Montville technology education teacher, Mr. Erik Sheehan certainly believes so.

“Schools need to add more real life application.” — Mr. Erik Sheehan, Technology Education Teacher, Montville High School

Mrs. Christina Sheehan recalls her two year internship from Millersville University,

“After four years of classes, I felt like I got there and I almost didn’t know anything from my classes because I didn’t learn the application of any of it.”

Mr. Sheehan also pointed out that students should be given more flexibility in choosing classes.

“There needs to be certain requirements, but more flexibility might be a good option. Like offering more electives or multiple forms of a certain subject. For example, rather than just basic history, you can have Vietnam, global studies, women’s studies. This way a student has some type of option even when choosing a required subject.

Unfortunately, while some already take this approach, many schools don’t have these options,” Mr. Sheehan exclaimed.

We could go on about certain aspects in education that get overlooked. For example, what about schools that get little to no funding?

“It’s hard to speak for the entire nation’s school system. A lot of school districts get taken over by the federal government. Then they try to conserve resources to save money. Like making the classes bigger than they should be. I think class size is probably a big problem in many schools at the moment.”

So what are your thoughts? What is causing America to fall behind to the rest of the world in education? One could certainly make an argument for any of the elements that are pointed out here.

Unfortunately, these are just a few of many overlooked educational elements that could be causing America’s educational jet-lag.

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