King to teachers: The job’s tougher, but more needed than ever


Back-to-school spending

Parents in families with students in grades K-12 planned to spend slightly less on back-to-school shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

According to NRF’s survey, the average family planned to spend $630.36 on electronics, apparel and other school needs this year, down from $669.28 in 2014.

Total national spending is expected to reach $24.9 billion. Families, on average, have spent 42 percent more on school items over the past 10 years. Total spending for K-12 and college this year is expected to reach $68 billion.

Families are carefully measuring where, when and how they should spend on fall clothing, school supplies, electronics and other necessities, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release.

Coupons and promotions continue to resonate with today’s shopper, and a NRF survey found that parents did their homework when it came to buying supplies, apparel and electronic items. On average, parents say that 64.4 percent of their purchases of pencils, folders and other school supplies are influenced by classroom lists or school requirements. In addition, 45.9 percent of electronics purchased are influenced by their schools’ lists and requirements.

In-store ads, coupons and promotions continue to be the big influencers for back-to-school shopping. Parents said traditional media had the most impact — coupons, in-store promotions and advertising inserts influence them the most to shop at a particular store, according to the NRF.

LEWISTON — U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told 450 teachers in city schools Monday that their job is more difficult and more critical than ever.

Lewiston-Auburn schools open Wednesday, and many area schools open Tuesday or Wednesday. On Monday, Lewiston schools were filled by teachers attending daylong workshops.

King, who is the son of two high school teachers, said teachers are expected “to do much more than teach. You’re asked to pick up a lot of the responsibilities in our society that weren’t expected of schools.”

Teachers have to do more parenting because more students come from homes with problems. Students show up hungry, not ready to learn. They aren’t read to by parents, he said.

“All those things are now falling on your shoulders,” King said. The reasons why are complicated, “but it’s a reality.”

Other ways teaching is tougher is more students have a language barrier, and more students feel entitled, he said.

“That’s a fairly recent phenomenon,” King said. Teachers have seen it, he’s seen it. While teaching at Bowdoin, a student became upset when King gave her a C. The student thought she was entitled to a higher grade. That mentality “doesn’t make it easy.”

And while classroom computers are important for learning, they can distract, King said. Teachers have to make sure students are doing school work and are not on Facebook or other social media sites.

Teaching is more critical because voters are making complex decisions, King said. Democracy needs an educated population.

“If people aren’t educated, they can’t make decent decisions,” he said. “If they make bad decisions, they’ll get bad government” that will affect society, he said. 

He also said data shows the single biggest variable to student success is having a skilled teacher.

“Mary and I have five kids,” King said. “We can remember the names of teachers who saved their academic lives.” He mentioned some of the names. “I can’t communicate to you enough how important it is what you’re doing. I love you guys.”

King also gave an update on a Senate bill he said looks promising that would change No Child Left Behind regulations. It still would require student testing, but the tests and how results are used would be up to the states, not the federal government.

It would eliminate a designation that a school is or is not making adequate yearly progress “which has done more harm than good,” King said.

Teachers have told him too much testing and federal rules get in the way of learning; they can’t do creative teaching when they spend so much time ensuring they’re in compliance.

When he was governor, King said, the federal government provided only 7 percent of education funding in Maine. “For that 7 percent, they were wagging the whole dog,” King said. “This is no way the federal government should interact with states.”

King urged teachers to be open to change, that teaching should move from a content-based to a process-based system.

“We’re being deluged with facts, data and information,” he said. What’s important is knowing how to find and use information, he said.

Students still need to know things, but businesses don’t need workers with knowledge of tons of facts. They need workers with soft skills — showing up on time and showing up every day.

“The work ethic is getting lost,” King said.

Employers also need workers who can solve problems, think critically and work collaboratively.

“The 21st century skills are collaboration, partnership, joint problem-solving. What do we call that at Lewiston High?” King asked. “Cheating!”

Some rethinking about how students are taught needs to be done, he said.

King wished the teachers a good new year. They responded with applause.

Tyne Turcotte, who teaches at Farwell and Martel elementary schools, said she liked that King shared his hopes for legislation that would reduce the federal government’s role in local schools.

“The federal government should not have as much power unless they’re going to give us the money,” Turcotte said. “Bring education back to the states.”

Lewiston Middle School teacher Angela Gilbert said she liked hearing how it’s time to teach skills over content. It’s more important “to have students coming out of schools who can think than those who know certain facts,” she said. “That’s a good lesson for everyone here.”

King agrees to spend a day at Lewiston school

LEWISTON — Taking questions from administrators and teachers Monday, Farwell Elementary School Principal Althea Walker gave an emotional invitation for U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, to not just visit her school, but spend a day with her.

King said yes.

The principal told the senator she wants him to listen “as I field phone calls from parents and grandparents, telling me their child was born addicted to crack, begging me for solution.”

Walker asked King listen to teachers who come to her with a great ideas to improve teaching through an activity, asking if there’s any money to allow it to happen. Often the answer is no.

She wanted him to see and hear how the federal “No Child Left Behind” regulations get in the way of teaching.

“I would appreciate it if you would consider my invitation a sincere one, and make time in your busy schedule to come and spend a day with me in Lewiston,” Walker said to applause from teachers.

The drug addiction problem “is awful,” King said. “It seems to be getting worse.” Sheriffs have told him county jails “have become defacto detox centers without resources.” Solutions will require work from citizens and all levels of government, he said.

As to her invitation, King said what he loves about his job is he gets to learn how things are done, “from toothpicks to school policy.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I accept.”

— Bonnie Washuk