Apparently I’m not a very good teacher. Here we are in April and I still have students who can’t read, can’t write a sentence, can’t add or subtract, and don’t recognize twenty-five common words by sight. Worse yet, several are still misbehaving almost daily and some students refuse to complete their daily work, preferring instead to play with their supplies, talk to their classmates and ignore me.
Of course all of this is my fault. I expect too much. I don’t explain things clearly. I don’t review often enough. I give too much homework. I don’t give enough homework. I don’t offer enough individual help. I pick on students I don’t like. I ignore students I don’t like. I’m too loud. I’m not patient enough. I’m too old fashioned- I don’t use enough technology and videos. I don’t give out enough stickers and treats. I’m just plain mean. Believe me, in the past fifteen years I’ve heard all of the above and more.
Most accusations made by parents are a result of frustration. Their child is not meeting their expectations or mine or the state’s and they need a dog to kick. We’ve all “been there, done that” whether we are willing to admit it or not. The danger in recent years is that administrators and legislators and the general public seem to be moving closer and closer to the fantasy that any child plus an excellent teacher plus a given number of days of teaching will result in a student prepared for college and a career. And since all children are ready and willing to learn, and since most of us are teaching about the same number of days in a school year, any failure in the success equation must be due to the lack of an excellent teacher. So the fact that some of my students are not ready for first grade is clearly my fault.
“Accountable” is the new buzz word in education and those of us who teach are being held accountable for more and more of our students’ performance- from reading skills to grades to test results. There are more warnings each year that our evaluations, our salaries, our very employment will soon be based first and foremost on the data collected on our students. Numbers on a page will soon determine everything. Time + Teaching= Student Success or you had better find a new career! Of course we recently witnessed the possible dangers of that equation. The administration and staff in Atlanta just found a way to change the numbers.
It is ironic that we seem to have gone “full circle” on this issue. When I was a young student my parents told me that I was responsible for my success in school. They expected me to behave, listen to my teacher, do my daily work, and even complete my homework. My dad told me that if I got in trouble at school I would be in “double trouble” at home. That only happened once. My mother told me she didn’t care if I didn’t like my teacher, I still had to be respectful and do my work. My parents were only called for a conference with the principal two times- once because a boy stole the doll I took to school for “show and tell” and once to discuss moving me from the fifth grade to the seventh.
But times have changed. So as we prepare for all of the testing and grading and compilation of data for this year I must face the fact that some of my students have failed to achieve success and there are people who believe that is my fault.
My mother was fond of reminding me that you can lead a horse to water…