This past school year, educators got a lot right

This past school year, educators got a lot right

Editor’s note: This column was written by Brett Hiner, a longtime educator, prior to the school shooting of May 24 in Uvalde, Texas.

I remember having a conversation with my brother-in-law a few years back regarding “cop” shows. I do not watch much television, but as a massive fan of Michael Connelly’s Hieronymus, aka Harry, Bosch character, “Bosch” was at the top of my must-see viewing list. My brother-in-law, a near 30-year veteran with the Akron Police Department, told me “Bosch” might be the closest reality to actual police/detective work on television. The other stuff, at least 90% of it, is nonsense when it comes to the day-in/day-out of the actual job.

I would imagine the same holds true for most TV shows centered around a profession. Hollywood’s job, after all, is to entertain, not educate, but that chat with officer Williams always comes to mind when I think about perception versus reality. It is why I often struggle keeping my mouth shut when educational-related issues/topics begin flooding the national pundit-led airwaves.

This may shock some, but 90% of what you hear is nonsense, and if you are only listening to those sitting behind a desk in New York City, spewing more nonsense, well, then you really are not listening.

On a warm fall day last September, on a break from grading papers, I looked out my classroom window and saw a student, clearly emotionally bothered by something, storming along the back sidewalk of the school. Before I could grab my phone to call the office, I noticed one of our student resource officers, Josh Timko, calmly walking behind her.

I could not hear a word they were saying to one another and had no clue what the circumstances of the moment involved, but within five minutes, officer Timko and the young lady were sitting on the sidewalk, facing one another, playing some form of patty-cake, which ended in a hug and the young lady making her way calmly back into school.

Currently, my desk sits in the north corner of my classroom, with a clear view of the hallway running parallel. It affords me the opportunity to monitor hallway chaos but also greet folks who may wander in during a rare quiet moment.

A morning job for some of our special-needs students is delivering water or coffee, made by them in the school coffee shop, to staff members. For me, it is less about the coffee and more about the conversation. I get a moment to say “good morning” to a young man with autism and debate the finer points of superhero life and the all-important question: Marvel vs. DC.

But I also marvel at his specialized paraprofessional Gretchen Van Lieu, amongst others, who work tirelessly with some of our hardest working but demanding students. Their day, like most, does not end with the ringing of the bell at 2:48 p.m.

On a few short walks around our school, I see a student with her head down on a desk, the teacher, Chelsey Porter, kneeling to eye level with the student and engaging the young lady in a quiet conversation that ends with a Kleenex and a smile; I hear a room full of 25-plus juniors laughing at something said by their history teacher, Mark Kister (sidenote: hearing a room full of students laughing, together, is a major job perk);

I see another room full of students in Brian Burdine’s math class attentively watching him write on the board, using letters and symbols and numbers that, to me, look like hieroglyphics, but every student with pencil in hand and notebook open; I see science teacher Troy Worth, on “dress like a student” spirit day, adorned with a wig, hoodie and air-pods that so perfectly match students’ attire he earns smiles everywhere he walks; I do not even need to walk into the band room, as I hear Craig French and Doug Bennett preparing their melodious students, over 150-plus mind you, for the Memorial Day Parade.

My point in sharing all of these stories, a mere snapshot of daily life in our schools, is that they are real and occur a lot more often than some would have you believe. We get it right way more often than not. Hearing, listening and watching these students and staff members is daily proof we are all growing and that most of the nonsense you hear is really just that.

Like many colleagues with whom I have talked this school year, I will remember the 2021-22 school year for all that we did right, for all the WCS staff members, families/students and community members who, amidst all odds, struggles and political nonsense, showed up on a daily basis and attempted to right a ship that was needlessly hit with the waves of selfish and/or temporary distractions.

I am no idealist. Like every occupation, public education has issues, many of which are deep and rooted in theory, policy, history and/or environment. But the real issues have nothing to do with the supposed “indoctrination” of critical race theory or the fall semester when I was asked to wear a mask to protect those more frail than others at school and at home. The real concern is not being able to distinguish perception from reality.

When we let national news outlets, who more often than not, cherry-pick a story in a high school thousands of miles away and make it seem like a rampant problem across all public schools, we do our local communities and its citizens a major disservice because we are letting someone else do the thinking for us, and that is the very antithesis of what learning is all about.

Brett Hiner just finished his 25th year of teaching English/language arts at Wooster High School, where he also serves as the yearbook advisor and Drama Club advisor/director. If he’s not at work or doing something work related, he is typically annoying his children and/or wife. He can be emailed at workinprogressWWN@gmail.com.