Thursday, November 17, 2016

Feed Them On Your Dreams

I had the honor and privilege of serving as “Principal for a Day” at Inskip Elementary here in Knoxville this week. Actually, it was really only half a day and not a single student was sent to my office while I was there. Oh well. Instead, it was an extended look at the faculty, classes and programs at the school. I am not sure what I expected the visit to be, but I left there very encouraged about these professionals and the children under their care.

The education “system” has been under fire in recent years. Most people also realize that teachers and school administrators are underpaid and often underappreciated. I have always had a healthy respect for those who dedicate their lives to education. My sister is a teacher/literacy coach and I can also point to several milestones in my own life for which I can thank a teacher who cared. Still, my admiration for them has only grown in light of this visit.

What I found was a team made up of administrators, teachers, social workers, counselors, nurses and specialized leaders working together to help grow these young minds. They demonstrated to me a care far beyond just “doing their job” and reinforced my thoughts that teaching is in many ways a “calling” not unlike ministry. The sincere concern they showed for the students having difficulties was striking, but I was even more impressed with how thoroughly they knew the kids and their family situations. Their hopes for them clearly do not end when class is dismissed.

I got to observe a few teachers in their classrooms with the students and one of the things that struck me immediately was just how diverse they were. At a glance, each room seemed equally populated with whites, blacks and Hispanics. This is clearly reflective of the community around them. I was slightly taken aback when I heard one of the teachers describe Inskip as an “inner city” school. I am not sure where I thought the inner city of Knoxville was, but it was enlightening to realize this is where I serve also through my church. I wish more people would embrace this as the beautiful view of America that it is.

The students in one of the classes were having trouble concentrating, so the teacher had them all stand up and do a quick set of 10 jumping jacks to get the blood flowing again. This prompted me to ask about physical education. I was disappointed to learn they are only allotted one day a week in the gym officially. I would later meet the gym teacher (Ed, Phys Ed.) who would welcome having the kids more frequently. I personally think this would help test scores more than additional class time. Several teachers told me how they try to squeeze in additional activity time for the students in spite of the heavy expectations of the curriculum.

Struggling with limited funds, space and other resources, these folks still seem to be working wonders. Without a classroom of their own, special areas such as music and technology make their rounds to the kid’s rooms with a cart. I was encouraged to find at least this effort was being made to shape well-rounded young people in a system with expectations weighted toward test scores. I hope there will be space allotted for these disciplines with the proposed building expansion.

I talked at length also with the director of the “Community School” program that runs daily from 2:30 – 5:30 PM. I appreciated hearing about the opportunities for children to receive some extra tutoring as well as more art and music, Spanish Club, Girls Inc. and tennis club. I have already put it on my calendar to come see the show planned in December by the performing arts class. (By the way Knoxville folks, they were very receptive to volunteers for any of these programs!)

I was also impressed with the community garden project started by a young lady from Americorps. This is a wonderful learning tool with the potential of being a real help to the neighborhood also. One of the 5th grade teachers outlined plans for a “Men’s Club” in which boys are taught and modeled manners and other helpful social tools. I believe this type of “mentoring” effort will pay great dividends in the classroom and beyond.

I just wanted to share this positive experience because who doesn’t need an uplifting word now and then? 

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