Monday, September 6, 2010

Learning to Blame

I started listening to a radio program on the debate about teachers and teacher performance and I was struck by something that the teacher accountability crusaders said - that poor teachers blame the students for their failure to learn.

At the school where he taught, Pinder says many teachers just sat around the teachers' lounge blaming the students. They said the kids were too far behind; too messed up to be helped.
This stood out for me because my mother used to be a teacher - while she had done other things before that, I have no recollection of her being anything other than an educator. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was a childcare worker, first in a residential treatment facility for children who had been taken out of their families' homes for abuse or neglect and didn't need psychiatric hospitalization, but weren't ready for foster care, and later as a foster care case worker. This was as close as my mother and I ever came professionally, and it gave us the chance to talk shop, as it were. (There was also the time that my mother came to visit me at work - One of the children complained to her, "Your son is mean." "Sorry," Mother replied, with a slight smile. "He's your problem now.")

When Mother would complain to me about things in her classroom, she NEVER laid blame at the feet of a student, even if she would wearily recount all of the disruptions that a particular student would cause. But sometimes, she would talk about what she understood of the child's home life, and how that worked against what she was attempting to do, and her efforts to work around it. She never wanted for better students - what she wanted were more engaged and involved PARENTS.

And that seems to be missing in today's debate about teachers. I don't know that I buy into the idea, which some of the advocates for greater teacher accountability seem to put forth, that no matter what the parents might be doing, a good enough teacher will make up for that, and inspire students to rise to their full potential.
We, as the adults in this system, have not only the ability, but the obligation to make sure that kids overcome every single obstacle that's in front of them to ensure that they can achieve at the highest levels.
Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools.
Perhaps all of the teachers that I had should have been fired, but I don't think that I would have done anywhere near as well in school as I did, if my parents had chosen to simply walk away from any involvement with my education. Of course, goes the argument, parents would never do that. From my own experience, I would beg to differ. But then, I'm not telling parents that if they just follow my line, their children will all be geniuses - so I have no real incentive to let them completely off the hook, and assume that no matter what it is they might be doing, it must be what's educationally best for their child(ren). I'm not offering an easy way out through shifting all the blame.


Anonymous said...

Growing up during my generation, education was top priority. Not only in the minds of our parents, but also, the educators. I remember the teachers emphasizing the importance of opening the greater intellectual minds of us youngsters by broadening our way of thinking. By putting our mind and desire to higher education we could build a foundation and accomplish all that we dreamed of. These teachers chose their career because they loved what they did. After 32 years, teachers have changed their way of thinking, teaching, as well as the passion in their chosen profession.
In today's generation, it's the money. It seems to appear that the passion to educate young minds is vanishing. Well, at least in Hawaii it seems to be. My point is, when teachers put the value of money before the students, why become an educator? Anyhow, although I may have sounded a bit negative, I enjoyed reading your post.

Aaron said...

Well, everyone needs to eat, I guess, and if the school board is hiring...

But I also think that, thirty some-odd years ago, there was more respect for the passion that went into teaching - but I could be wrong. Maybe what we're seeing is the inevitable result of teaching becoming just another job. After all, part of the teacher-accountability movement is predicated in the idea that one can measure teacher output, in terms of educational outcome, in the same way that you measure the quality of a car or toaster.