The following is the speech High School Science Teacher gave at the 2006 National Honor Society induction on May 17, 2006. Joe has been a science teacher in the Patchogue-Medford schools for 32 years. The PMCT.org staff felt that his words should be shared with all....enjoy!
In past years, I and others have stood at this podium on this night of the school calendar. We have spoken about the importance of education and achievement on the future of the young people seated on the stage—Patchogue-Medford’s brightest and best.
But it was a night a few weeks ago, at the Patchogue Medford Congress of Teachers’ Citizenship Awards, when parents and grandparents filled the auditorium, that a credo of mine was reinforced once again: It is education that shapes peoples lives. But, it’s family that shapes their education.
Yet, over and over, we hear politicians and sensational journalists talk about “Our troubled schools” – “Our failing schools”. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s not our schools that are failing. It’s our society and parenting that’s failing.
Let me go back into the past with you for a moment. I am part of a generation which is known as “The Baby Boomers.” We were born to a generation of Americans that didn’t have a nick-name. They were born near the beginning of the twentieth century – many after World War I. Many of them spent their early years not really aware of the good times of the “Roaring 20’s.” All of them remember the times in their childhood that came after 1929. A time that forged their character: The Great Depression. Many Americans left the United States in that time – more than any other time in U.S. history. But many also came. They came from war- torn countries of Europe with the hope of opportunities.
In that time, that generation got by on little and worked hard to help their parents support their families. For most of them education beyond sixth or eighth grade was not an option.
No one looked for somebody to blame, or sue. They felt responsible for their own success and failure.
Then in the late 1930’s, when they were about the age of the young people on this stage, war broke out in Europe and China…and it was these same young Americans…this same generation that was called on to turn the tide against Fascism, the Nazis, and Imperialism in the Pacific. Pearl Harbor thrust them into defense of America. They crowded induction offices and were drafted. They suffered a tremendous number of casualties, but those who fought on, fought with a strong belief in a way of life that had not yet really been good to them. They were victorious and they saved the world. Literally, they saved the world.
They came back from this horror and started families, creating a boom of children never before seen in America. They made sure their children were afforded a fine education so we could have a better life than they had. They built schools as they expanded into suburbia. They became actively involved in the development of those schools and the education their children received.
Yes, their generation had no nick name. Not until the 1990’s, when news anchor Tom Browkaw coined it for them and they became known as, “The Greatest Generation.”
Then in the 50’s and 60’s, a new threat to this nation emerged… the threat of Communism and an Arms Race with the Soviet Union …the Cold War was underway. President Eisenhower first, and then President Kennedy, realized the long term solution was in the schools so they increased funding and opportunities. Sputnik was launched by the Russians, and new programs were launched in the U.S. to develop Math and Science education. From that influence, here I am over 45 years later teaching Science.
Although my parents didn’t have much monetarily, they made sure that my brothers and I did well in school and got a college education. Again, they saw it as the best way to success and happiness.
Obviously, their mindset was not very much different from any of you here tonight… because you are here tonight. What you do for your children and with your children has made it important to them to be on this stage tonight.
But what has changed since the greatest generation shaped this society? The baby boomers became the most finely educated generation in the history of the United States. They became great thinkers and questioned everything.
One great thing that developed was the greater role of women. Before, women were expected to be housewives, nurses, and teachers; each role a great one…an important one. But women were almost never allowed or encouraged to be anything else. The role of women expanded into every opportunity the economy had to offer: Doctors, researchers, lawyers, business executives… anything. This brought on a big change for the American family. Please don’t misunderstand. Women deserve to be doing all these things and they do a great job in these roles. The role of men, husbands and fathers, didn’t change or was too slow to change. They were needed to pick up the slack in the home created by the new role of women.
The standard of living slowly became based on a two-income family. Those seeking more traditional roles had a tough time keeping up.
Moms and Dads now come home exhausted, too tired to oversee homework or ask, “How was school today?” Rather than dinner being a family shaping occasion, a binding event, it became a “Hit and run”-- at different times of the night. Not around a dinner table, but one in front of the TV, another in the bedroom, another over the kitchen sink, and one at a fast food restaurant. There was no longer time to give advice, ask Dad a question, or hear a problem. If not being able to see the problem on the face of the kid.
Developments in technology made life faster. It doesn’t provide more free time, as promised, but now you can squeeze more work in the same amount of time. And, it made attention spans shorter.
With couples drawn in so many directions, the attraction that drew them together faded and divorce increased, to where now, almost 50% of marriages fail. Unfortunately, in many cases, battling parents lose sight of the children they share.
With these situations and others coming together, the family situation in much of America has deteriorated; thankfully, not for you on this stage.
Ladies and gentlemen, you owe much to the people in the audience who got you to this place. They overcame many obstacles and made you a priority. They shaped you and got you ready for school. They ingrained in you the importance of education. They encouraged you to do well. They read to you – gave you a love of books. They structured your play time and worked with your teachers, who were given the task of expanding your knowledge to prepare you for a college education. They got on your case to write the essays, fill out the applications, and meet the deadlines.
The difference between you and the average student stems from them. I feel that way about my parents. They kept me on the straight and narrow, made sure that I kept up my end of the educational process. They supported the schools and school activities. They realized that education is a costly process. It must be constantly updated, upgraded, and kept competitive.
Today technology plays a role in every discipline; including art and music. There is new knowledge and techniques to be taught in order to be competitive.
You are indeed fortunate. Many come with no support, no encouragement, a negative feeling toward education, and a more negative attitude toward teachers. This is what their parents have bred them to believe. They are usually not involved in music, athletics, or extra curricular activities. They come undisciplined. They come without direction. They come without a drive to learn and do well. They are easy prey for recruitment into criminal activity. Quite a different life than what these people have made for you. Yet we do our best to reach out to them as caring educators in hope that we can improve their lives.
The role of the American teacher has changed. No longer are we purely responsible for teaching the subject content we mastered in college. We are strategists, discussion coordinators, multimedia experts, and in a growing number of cases…a part-time parent to students with busy parents, or self absorbed parents, or absent parents.
Unlike the teachers who came before us, great professionals whom I try to emulate today, we must also be trained and prepared for the unthinkable… like the events that happened at Colombine High School. Or be the first line of care and comfort as we did here on September 11, 2001.
I have spent the greater part of my life, 32 years, serving the young people of the Patchogue Medford School District. I have one more year before this chapter of my life comes to end. In the time that I have invested here, I have had some of the greatest experiences in the classroom, coaching football and coaching track, and in the many activities we offer our students in the high school community. We have come far and offer many opportunities for our students to be prepared for college studies and college life.
I work with colleagues who I truly believe are some of the finest educators in the state. I moved to this community because I wanted my three children to be educated by those teachers, in these schools.
I’ll put our best kids -- these kids -- against any other high school’s kids. But we can’t cut them short. We can’t have them in classes of 40 students. We can’t leave them without current technology and equipment. We can’t leave them without opportunities like this band, or our Art Department that provides an education that gets students into the leading art schools in the country. We can’t take away the lessons learned on the athletic field.
Last summer I found this book in a small bookstore. It’s titled, Patchogue, Queen City of Long Island’s South Shore. As I turned the pages I became absorbed, melancholy, and at times sad. It chronicled the development of the Village from the early 1800s and devoted a chapter to the schools which started over 150 years ago. They were then, as they are now, the cornerstone to the community. I became saddened because I fear that many in this community will turn their backs on the schools and these students and others like them -- including the Class of 2020 now in our preschool program. I worry that all that we worked for and those in the past worked for, is dimming like a flame running out of fuel.
We are all at a crossroad now. Both you in the audience and you who sit on this stage have the future of this community in your hands. Support your schools. Now, more than ever, they are still the cornerstone of this community. Keep education important. You, who have proven so much, must be the vanguard of this fight.
Work hard. Put your family first. And put this school district, your school district, back on top where it belongs.