Program Closures—Is Your Program at Risk?
(Guest Post from Renee Meents, Greenfield High School. This is aimed toward family and consumer sciences teachers, but is applicable to all educators.)
Flickr photo by Ben Cooper
We are living in uncertain times. Education is in danger of becoming one of the largest underfunded mandates. School districts are being asked to continue to do more for students with fewer funds. Across the nation districts are being forced to make tough decisions about money. There are no easy or painless solutions to the problem. Thousands of teachers are being laid off as administrators look at every possible way of saving money. Unfortunately FCS (Family and Consumer Sciences) programs are often on the chopping block. Each of you should be asking yourself, “Is my program at risk?”
My answer to you, after 31 years of teaching is YES, but it doesn’t have to be. My question to you is “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?” My fear is that in far too many instances you are part of the problem. As I bring my career in education to a close I would like to challenge you to evaluate the FCS program that you are associated with and your approach to teaching. Self-reflection, if truly done can be painful however; it is the only way to grow. If we are no longer growing, we are dying. Some of you will choose not to read this and that’s fine. Others of you will accuse me of finger pointing and perhaps I am. Please remember however, that when I point one finger, there are three pointing back at me. As I reflect on my teaching and my program I can definitely point several fingers my way.
Here are some questions to guide your self-reflection and program evaluation process:
Are you preparing your students to be 21st century learners?
We cannot begin to teach them what they will need to know because we have no idea what that will be next year let alone 30 years from now. When I started teaching AIDS was unheard of, I typed my tests using a typewriter and mimeograph paper, I used film strips and 8 mm projectors. People talked face to face, phones plugged into the wall, many in Missouri were still on party lines and TV’s had channels you walked across the room to turn. If you needed information you looked it up in an encyclopedia that was probably two or three years old.
How do the students in your school perceive your classes?
Are these the classes they take for “fun” while the other classes are “important?” What about their parents? Do they see the value in your classes?
Are you working to change that image?Are you developing at least one program of study or are you hoping it will go away? (Guess what? It’s not going to so you better jump on board early.) Learn all that you can about programs of study and Technical Skills Assessments (TSA). Be the person in your district that understands them and are working toward developing at least one program of study. Show your counselor and administrator how family and consumer sciences courses fit into career clusters and programs of study. If you don’t, who will? If no one can then your program is expendable.
Do your courses focus on technical skills?Be honest. These skills are valuable but if you need to learn how to do something, don’t you just Google it like everybody else? Teaching the technical skills is important, but they are far from the most important. James Clary, restaurant owner in Springfield once said at the MoEFACS meeting, that he “Hires for attitude and trains for skills.” Employers and our communities need our students to be able to think, problem solve, communicate, work together in teams, and to be leaders. Being able to sew the perfect seam or make a child’s toy from inexpensive materials can be beneficial but being able to evaluate quality or safety is far more important. As FCS teachers we like to defend our programs by saying that we teach the life skills everyone needs. Are those life skills the technical skills that we enjoy teaching and our students enjoy learning or are they the skills that will help families solve the real problems that they face that have no easy solution or ready-made answer?
Are your students actively involved in the community?
What kind of involvement does the community observe? Do they see students that are learning to be leaders that will be a valuable asset to the community in the future?
What classroom activities does your community and administration hear about from your students?
Is it the so called “fun activities”? Even if these activities are legitimately a part of your curriculum does your community and administration understand how these are going to help the students and the district meet state and federal standards? The tests and standards are not going away.
Are you treating the last 25 days of school as importantly as the first 25 days?
What is the educational value of the projects that your students are doing? A Popsicle house might be a fun project and could be used to show roof styles, window styles, etc. but does it truly encourage critical thinking skills that could be applied to a job? How many employers in the housing and design industry would see this project as both authentic and valuable? The same goes for pumpkin carving, wedding planning, gingerbread houses, etc. I’m not saying these can’t be valid projects, but if you were an administrator or a school board member trying to decide which positions to eliminate, would you see the important educational value in them?
If a prospective employer asked one of your students to give examples of skills learned in your program that he/she will bring to the job what would the answer be?
What would your students share about your program?
Are students in your classroom learning to understand, adapt to and conform to change?
Are you setting the example by revising curriculum, staying abreast of technology, utilizing a variety of current resources?
Are you teaching the text or do you engage your students in learning?
If you need to ask for a copy of the answers from a textbook generated test or work sheet, then did you really teach the unit? Shouldn’t you know the answers? If a textbook company test meets your needs then you taught the text. A text is a resource. How many of you would be satisfied if your students did a research project and only used one resource?
Does your community and administration see your FCCLA organization as a vital part of the education process of its students?
Is your FCCLA integrated into your courses? Are you encouraging your students to take active roles at the regional, state and national levels?
Is your FCCLA a “club” or an organization?
There is a difference. A “club” focuses on fun activities—the Valentine’s Dance, the Xmas party, fun monthly meetings, etc. An “organization” has specific goals and mission. Fun activities are included but most of these activities have a purpose that goes beyond having fun. FCCLA chapter meetings are planned around the organization’s state and national programs, members are challenged to grow as individuals as they set and achieve goals and step out of their comfort zones to become leaders.