I have been covering schools for 30 years, and I have visited more schools than the milk delivery guys. As Johnny Cash sang, I’ve been everywhere, man. From the modest rural schools to the swanky private prep schools, and everywhere in between. 

I wish everyone could see the changes and progress first-hand, but due to safety concerns, that will never happen again. Many of us remember the days when we could stroll through the front door of our neighborhood school, just to say hello. 

That will not happen today. Tragic events across the nation have resulted in fortress-like safety measures at every entrance. 

While I am thankful for the increased security, it saddens me that the students and staff members of 2022 are being greeted with talk of active shooter drills, escape plans, and armed teachers.

Unlike many in my generation, I will not tell you that schools were perfect “in the good old days.” We had bullies, pranksters, unruly parents, and teachers who had to beg and scrape for every textbook.

But we rarely saw a police officer. In fact, I don’t think we ever needed one. My parents never had to warn me about what to do if a stranger approached at the bus stop. Teachers and principals never held an assembly about where to hide if a gunman entered the building. We did have fire drills and tornado drills, which we took seriously until about 6th grade, when we began feeling ten feet tall and invincible.

I sympathize with parents who now, out of necessity as much as love, give their child an extra hug in the morning, not knowing what calamity might occur behind those locked school doors. “It could never happen here,” has been replaced by, “It is happening at far too many schools.”

The biggest discipline problems in my school were gum chewing, throwing paper wads, and talking in class. My one and only paddling occurred when a teacher lined up all the boys, because none of us would admit to making a certain noise. (Girls would never do such a thing.) The teacher figured by paddling us all, the guilty party would definitely be punished. If only it were that simple today.

Along with the security concerns, many teachers believe they have a different type of target on their back, from a source I would have never expected.

Elected officials, including a former (and perhaps future) president, are saying terrible things about teachers. The governor of Tennessee sat stone-faced and silent on a stage next to a college president who said some incredibly insulting things about the teaching profession. In a different time, just about any governor would have stopped the guy and said, “Hold on, sir. These are MY teachers you’re talking about!” But in 2022, in some circles it is politically advantageous to attack public school teachers. 

I cannot believe I even had to type that last sentence. Admittedly, back in the 20th century, not all of my teachers were world-class. As in any profession (even journalism), there were some duds then, as there are now. But the overwhelming majority of my teachers worked hard, set a good example, and gave it their best effort day after day.

This, despite low wages, subpar working conditions, indifferent parents, and outdated encyclopedia sets. But at least they weren’t being bullied and berated by our state and national leaders.

These days, the creaky wooden floors, the classic auditoriums, and the dusty chalkboards have been replaced by shiny waxed floors, multi-purpose cafe-gym-atoriums, and the Promethean board, which enables teachers to mirror their computer tablet, so that students can interact. Honestly, if someone had asked me what Prometheans were when I was in third grade, I would have guessed it was the chapter that followed Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

I think my K-12 years prepared me pretty well in basic math, essential grammar skills, history, and even driving, in a much-needed program that is often overlooked today.

I looked forward to the return of school each fall, without a care in the world, and certainly no fear. And, I believe my teachers felt important and respected. I wish those sentiments were still true today.

(David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “Hello Chattanooga” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com).

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