School Climate & Safety Opinion

Going Green

By Susan Graham — December 12, 2010 4 min read
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When I was not quite twenty-one, back in 1970, my college campus held it’s first Earth Day celebration. We wore green armbands and people were worried that we were some kind of crazy extremist group. The dean of the school of education warned us that participating in fringe groups could make us less attractive as potential hires. One of our radical talking points: “Don’t throw trash or cigarette butts out of the car window while driving down the road. That stuff doesn’t just go away.” In 1973 there was a sci-fi/horror movie, Soylent Green, set in a future where overpopulation and pollution and something called the “greenhouse effect” and global warming resulted in an impoverished society that was forced to exist on a processed food product called soylent green. Sound familiar? The big revelation was that Soylent Green was actually recycled humans.

Well, that was almost forty years ago. Now I’m almost sixty one, the age at which I would have been recycled in the old movie. We’ve come a long way since then. While we do seem to have a problem with overpopulation, food insufficiency, global warming and poverty and we do eat too much processed food, I’m grateful that we’ve stopped short of the climax of the movie. Most of us would agree that Going Green is “the right thing to do.” The real question is how we get there. But we consider it sufficiently important to we educate our children to be ecologically aware and responsible. For that reason, the Virginia School Board Association partners with industry, encouraging schools to

Start completing the Challenge and earn "greenpoints" by implementing new actions and adopting new policies that will increase your total score. Amassing at least 100 "green points"out of a possible 200 will earn certification as a "Green School Division." In addition, school divisions could earn Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels of certification for scores of 125 points or higher.

Here in our school district we have a recycling competition with a point system with recognition and cash wards for the greenest schools. We have a faculty member who is the recycling coordinator. It may sound like just one more piled obligation, but it is changing the mind set of the next generation. After several years exposure to an intentional recycling program in elementary school, I find that my 6th graders are quick to ask, “Does this go in trash or recycling?” I’m notice that students are more aware of not wasting--whether it’s paper or food or energy. They understand the concept of limited resources.

So here’s my question: In a culture that values conservation of resources and an economic environment that demands that we waste nothing, why don’t we work harder at conserving our teaching force? I think about this a lot because I coordinate the mentoring at my school and I’m concerned that a couple of our new teachers, who have great potential may not make it past those first hard three years. I worry because too often I see mid-career teachers tell me privately, “I love my classroom and don’t want to be an administrator, but can’t see doing this for another twenty years without any career path.” And then, of course, there’s my own generation of baby boomer teachers who are drawing close to retirement and over and over I hear theym say that they would love to continue to contribute to education, but find that there are very limited options that use their knowledge and skills. How can we recycle, reuse, and repurpose the human resource of teachers?

We need to attract bright young people to teaching and we won’t do that unless we make entry into the profession attractive and that will require treating current practitioners as professionals. We need to create new career options for our millennial teachers because they will not be content to put in 30 years in the classroom with no path for advancement other than administration. And we need to capitalize on the investment that has been made in master teachers.

Right now the popular solution is to “Fire all the bad teachers!” and with it there is another more subtle message of “Teachers are disposables, so get them young, hire them cheap, train them fast, work them hard, and replace them every few years.” .” Finally, there is one more insidious implied corollary. “If a teachers spend their entire careers in the classroom they must lack knowledge, skills or ambition and, therefore, they must be the bad teachers who need to be fired.”

The Center for Teaching Quality came up with a radical new approach to the question of how to go about Transforming School Conditions. They asked practicing teachers about Building Bridges to the Education System that Students and Teachers Deserve.

Many solutions are not unique. They include assessing student progress, promoting extended learning opportunities for students, improving teacher preparation, implementing rigorous evaluations for teachers, and providing high quality professional development. But this workgroup suggested that teachers were more than a problem to be fixed. They suggested that teachers can and should be actively engaged in solutions.

Teachers guiding teaching practice may sound revolutionary. Retiring to part time leadership rather than fulltime rocking chairs may sound radical. We’ve been experimenting with external school reform for some time and just maybe, it’s time we consider repurposing teachers as reformers rather than disposables.

If teachers are the single most important factor in student success, how illogical is it to grind them down and use them up to feed the desire to blame someone for our society’s failures? If recycling printer cartridges could earn a school system “greenpoints”, how many ‘greenpoints” would a repurposed master teacher be worth?

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.