When it comes to improving performance in our public schools, parents need to start demanding that the schools begin with the simplest and most obvious changes that they can make. Last year at this time, I helped a friend move into her classroom at a local public school. When I entered the classroom, I was appalled by the condition of the room. There was paint peeling off of the ceiling. There were holes in the walls. The room looked like it had been through a war. While the teachers are responsible for putting together bulletin boards and basic decoration, I certainly did not imagine that they would be responsible for “Extreme Home Makeover-esque” changes to the classroom. I truly believed that the custodial staff and the school administration would fix these maladies. Let’s fast forward to June and the end of the school year. Believe it or not, the same paint was peeling off the ceiling. The same holes were in the walls. The same war existed – convincing students that we, as educators, care about expectations and standards while we cannot even provide them with a clean, professional environment to learn in.
The school’s environment is a combination of factors, which includes both physical and cultural elements. There is certainly a relationship between the signals sent by the physical condition of the classroom and the standards and expectations for behavior we have for students. Disproportionately, the students who attend inadequate school facilities are socio-economically disadvantaged. Poor physical conditions send a strong signal that some children are not worth the time it takes to go to Lowe’s and pick up a gallon of paint. This further makes them believe that education is a dead end. Don’t mistake what I am saying – schools do not have to look like the Hotel duPont. But if a school cannot put in the effort clean and fix the basic infrastructure of the classrooms, how can we expect students to put maximum effort into their studies?
So, is the teacher an educator or a custodian? In a nationwide survey, Procter & Gamble’s Bounty® brand found that 42% of our busy teachers listed “cleaning” as one of their daily duties. In the survey conducted with Wakefield Research, Inc., Bounty® found that 94% of teachers believe students learn better in clean classrooms.
I would assume that many people in the school district would cry out, “We have no money! That is why we cannot make these changes happen.” Well, I would recommend that the principals and superintendents of these schools do exactly what your hard-working teachers do – lay out your own money and spend your own time. I know that the administration works hard, but the hard work does not matter if the job is not done. Isn’t that what we are telling our public school teachers now? As a financial services professional, I know that my office is a reflection on me; much the same way a school is a reflection on the principal or superintendent. Therefore, I would invest money and time to making that space as beautiful as possible and I would not allow anyone into that office until it was completed to my standards. This is a lesson that would be incredibly powerful to the students. Imagine an administration saying “we will not let students walk into a classroom that is not up the standard of what their scholastic effort should be”.
How many evenings have you seen a principal in the classrooms using a paint roller to cover up graffiti? How many weekends has your student’s superintendent been underneath a desk removing gum? I would venture to say that your answer is “Not Many”. But guess what? Our teachers do that. And they are not paid overtime. Parents, we need to demand excellence from our schools. Not just from the teachers, but also the administrators, staff, and even the classroom in which your children spend their time. Make sure to voice your concerns about the environment that your student is learning in. It could make all of the difference in their expectations they have about the quality of their education.