Reflections of education past and present

By Greg Gelpi

A lot's changed in the world of education, particularly in regards to discipline, Carol Duke, 60, says, reflecting on her 30 1/2 years as an educator.

Stories are swapped and laughs shared as members of the Clayton County Education Association enjoy dinner and common career "callings" during the annual National Teacher Week.

There was a time when a teacher could stand students up and "pat" their bottoms and they would behave, Duke says. Discipline, though, is out of hand now, she says.

The lack of discipline is part of the culture of less teacher support and less teacher respect, she believes.

Duke became a teacher just because she wanted to do it, she says, recalling growing up on a farm.

"My parents were determined that my brother and I were going to go to college," adding that she has loved being an educator ever since becoming one. "One of our biggest rewards is seeing students succeed."

Karen Robinson, 30, says that she was "born" into teaching and teaches kindergarten at Riverdale Elementary School, where she attended as a student and where her mother taught.

As with Duke, though, she is concerned with school violence and discipline, which she says is "filtering" down from older students.

"My personal perspective is that we had more parental involvement," Robinson says, considering the changes from the time when she was a student to today.

She says there are no consequences for students who misbehave.

"I have a kindergartner who throws fits and refuses to move," Robinson says. "That's frustrating. It's an incredible obstacle because most of your energy is spent on discipline."

Education has also changed, she says, to keep pace with technology. Access to technology in the Clayton school system is "incredible."

Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman, who calls teaching a "calling," said that problems with discipline contribute to low morale among teachers.

Teaching goes well beyond the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic, Chapman says. Teachers also instill values, interpersonal skills, citizenship and critical thinking.

The challenge lies in not allowing all of the negative aspects of education to "snuff out" a teacher's fire for being a teacher, he says.

"The educators in Clayton County do not feel a sense of appreciation," Chapman says. "They do not feel supported by the administration. They do not feel supported by parents."

Despite that, Chapman says a simple "thank you" in passing from a former student makes it all worth while for him and reinforces his decision to become an educator.