Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Defense of Teachers

I just discovered this email from Aug. 12, 2009

It has been acknowledged that our national educational system is in crisis. Unfortunately, there are few critics focusing on the real causes because it is not popular to do so. Instead, the focus has been on poor teachers, the need for more money for education, large class sizes, too much testing, and substandard schools. Some of the solutions proposed have been to identify and weed out the bad teachers, increase teacher salaries and include merit pay, provide teachers with more professional development and resources, have smaller class sizes and smaller schools, less testing and larger school budgets.The reality is that time and experience have shown that these are not the root causes and solutions for improving education.

The idea that there are so many poor teachers nationally is unrealistic.In any profession, there is a small percentage of individuals who are not performing to standards.In the teaching profession, it takes three years to achieve tenure (NYS). During this probationary period, a teacher can be dismissed if he/she is not up to the school's standards. Therefore, it is not realistic to claim there are so many poor teachers in the system, resulting in poor student performance.
Teachers attempt to do the best they can each day in the environment they find themselves in. Unfortunately, the environment in too many cases is not conducive to teaching and learning. Factors that impede the teaching -learning process include poor student discipline, poor student work habits, lack of student effort in class work, home work and studying, poor student attendance, and lack of administrative support.

The problem is that society has embraced an entitlement philosophy that abstains from any personal responsibility for its behaviors and actions.This idea has infected our school system in that if a student is not learning, it must be the fault of others. The student is entitled to an education, why isn't he getting it? Unfortunately, administrators play the game and blame teachers for academic performance and behavioral choices of students. If a teacher has discipline problems in the classroom, he/she is a weak teacher. If a teacher has poor student attendance, the teacher's lessons must be boring.If a teacher fails too many students based on their poor attendance and performance, the teacher is the focus of scrutiny. Therefore, teachers are intimidated and play the game of pretending students are succeeding by passing them.
Many people do not think through the teaching-learning process.We don't consider that learning is acquired through mastery,which requires hard work and effort. A teacher instructs and guides, while the student engages by applying effort in learning the subject matter.It is a two way street. If the student does not put the necessary effort into the subject matter, learning will be limited.In addition, in order to master a subject, homework and studying are necessary. Too many have the erroneous view that it all happens in the classroom.

Yet teachers are held responsible for student learning whether students put effort in to their work or not.The critics say that teachers must motivate their students to learn. However, when push comes to shove, students will only learn through hard work in developing reading, writing and thinking skills. Unfortunately, too many students are not willing to work hard to be successful no matter what the motivation is.Why do it the hard way when many know that in this entitlement model, they will succeed regardless, through social promotions, teacher grade inflation, credit recovery, easier and grade inflated standardized exams, summer school, GED's, etc. Learning is not the objective, moving through the system is.The result is that more students will graduate as functional illiterates, unprepared for college or the work place.For example,about 75% of NYC students require remedial courses when applying to Community Colleges and the two year graduation rate is horrendous.

Education will not improve until we face the root cause which I have outlined. However, this discussion doesn't take place since it is not politically correct and makes us feel very uncomfortable because we have to point the finger at ourselves and our children.We would rather scapegoat our teachers and politicians and play more of the "blame game." However, until we acknowledge the root cause, we will be unable to focus on real solutions that will lead to real improvements in education.

James Calantjis

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. The blame game continues to stand in the way of any real progress in public education. While people are incresingly demonizing teachers and school reforms are continually being put into place, it seems that the root causes of, at possible solutions to, the real problems facing public education are not even discussed.