June 4, 2008
Teachers cannot teach if students refuse to learn
Seemingly, many people who are not teachers think they could do a better job
than most teachers.
Everyone has gone to school and has had teachers, so how hard could it be to
teach? Well, I would like to give you an opportunity to walk in our shoes by
posing some questions that we teachers often deal with:
* What would you do if all you have ever wanted to do is teach, but you
find yourself doing mostly test prep?
* What would you do if you had to dip into your personal budget to buy
school supplies for students who refused to come to class with those
supplies? Never mind that their brand-new shoes probably cost more than your
* What would you do if you had planned a wonderful lesson, but more than
half of your class failed to show up for no particular reason at all? Do you
teach that lesson to those in class and then teach it over and over so the
other kids get caught up? (Remember, you don't want to leave anyone behind.)
* What would do if you held after-school and/or Saturday extra-help
sessions and no one showed up even after you called homes, sent letters and
offered extra credit for those attending? Remember, you have to get as many
students as you can to pass the Regents exams or New York state will say
you're an ineffective teacher.
* What would you do if you had a student on the verge of dropping out or
refusing to do any work because he felt that his teacher didn't care about
him, and refused to see that his lack of effort and his disrespect for
people and rules were actually the issue? "My teacher doesn't like me" was
an unacceptable excuse for failure in my home.
* What would you do if sports became more important to your students than
reading, writing or thinking?
* What would you do if you called parents to notify them of their child's
belligerent behavior and they responded, "Well, you must have done something
to him because Sam doesn't just cuss people out for no reason"?
* What would you do if parents told you not to call them anymore about
their children, or even hung up on you?
* How do you teach pupils who want to learn while making sure that you
don't leave behind those who don't want to learn?
* How do you teach students to be respectful and responsible adults and
positive contributors to society when bureaucracy has made it acceptable to
be less than that? You can't hold students accountable for lost books,
missed assignments or bad behavior because, as some would say, "They are
poor; they don't know any better."
* What would you do if a student often slept in your class because she had
to watch siblings or her own children all night, or maybe just hung out and
went to bed very late? Remember, detention is not an option because students
may play a sport after school or they might have more important things to do
than stay for detention.
* What would you do if you knew students were graduating without being
ready for college or having any alternative plan?
* What would you do if a student threatened you with bodily harm but
suspension was no longer an option because the district was trying to keep a
lid on suspension numbers?
* What would you do if you wanted to spend time with your family but you
had to plan lessons, grade papers, assist in school events, etc.? Your day
doesn't end when the bell rings.
Many of you may have the answers to these questions - and I challenge the
community, corporations and parents to take a more active role in the
schools and in the lives of children and young adult students. Everyone has
something to offer that may change the life of a child or young adult.
I am a graduate of the City School District where I now teach, and I am also
a parent of a ninth-grader in the CSD - and it is obvious that something has
gone terribly wrong. Our kids are learning how to shortchange themselves
from a flawed system that refuses to make them accountable and promotes
mediocrity. How can we expect young people to become productive contributors
to society if we refuse to give them the basic tools they need?
Parenting doesn't stop once your child goes to school. However, the sad part
is that even if the community, schools and parents work together, if the
student refuses to see that he or she has to take an active role in
learning, then change will be difficult. Whether they believe it or not,
students have to be vested in their own education. They have to want to
learn and to better themselves.
Manon is a teacher in the City School District.
Carolyn Eubanks responds: