Teachers are heading back to school this week. Many of them have worked a second job, so they have had little time off with their families.

Teachers have their salary spread out over a 12-month period, but they aren’t paid for the summer. Many have already been in their classrooms, getting organized for the upcoming year. New teachers are getting the information needed to begin their first year in Culpeper schools. When you meet some of them in the coming months, please make them feel welcome in our community.

Students will begin classes on August 12. It would be wonderful to think that they will all come prepared and raring to go—but we all know that isn’t the case. There will be those who won’t have the supplies they need. Some will come from homes where they have been reading or provided with opportunities for exploration this summer—many will not. Please consider making a donation of school supplies to any one of Culpeper’s schools. Simply drop them off at the office for the staff to use as needed.

Expectations for the upcoming year need to be realistic. Schools cannot teach everything to students. We teach personal finance and economics to ALL students, which is required for graduation. We teach personal hygiene and about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We offer Family and Consumer Science, which is the old “Home Ec” and agriculture. But it is not the job of the school system to teach every child how to grow their own food and cook it. Certainly there are things that are better taught in school—but the basics of behavior and responsibility must come from the home.

It would be wonderful if every child came to school with a full stomach, a good night’s rest and ready to pay attention and learn. Unfortunately, that is not reality. There are those who say that it used to be that way, but I am not sure it ever was. Students may face a host of challenges, from mental health issues, to hunger and abuse. These issues have to be taken into consideration before a student is able to focus on spelling or math facts. For some students, simply making progress—instead of meeting a randomly set standard—is a realistic expectation. That being said, parental involvement is critical for a child’s education. The teacher cannot do it alone. Parents need to seek support and assistance when needed, but ultimately each child is a parent’s responsibility.

Expectations must also be realistic for teachers. The school day and the school year haven’t been extended. Yet, every year, more is required of teachers. The pressures on teachers force many to leave the profession. Situations arise in the classroom daily that require a teacher to adjust their lesson plans. Holding teachers to an hour-by-hour timeline and restricting them to a very rigid curriculum is unrealistic. Teachers have to be flexible and administrators must understand this. The focus must be on the children—not statistics, data collection or a pre-set timeline.

As another school year begins, we expect that parents will do all they can to prepare their children for a successful school year, realizing that it won’t happen for every child. New teachers will quickly have their eyes opened to the fact that what is required in the classroom today goes beyond teaching the facts of their subject area. Goals must be set for the coming year, realizing they are just that: Goals. Making realistic progress is what we should aim for.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.

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